Vol. 5, No. 12
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The expression "the mind of Christ" appears in Philippians 2:5. Herein, it is my task to deal with some of the characteristics of the "mind of Christ" that are certainly worthy of our daily emulation.
In this lesson, I wish to show that the mind of Christ is both kind and forgiving. The twin virtues of kindness and forgiveness are easily seen in the two passages that I have selected for my texts (Acts 10:38 and Matthew 18:21-35). This topic will carry our spirits into seasons of refreshing as we are transported, if only momentarily, out of the worldly surge of hostility and belligerence into the more saintly spheres of kindness and forgiveness.
We speak of a "kind" person, and we speak of "mankind," and perhaps if we think about it at all, we may think that we are using quite different words or the same words in different senses. In reality they are connected by the closest of bonds; a "kind" person is a "kinned" person, one having kindship with other men. In truth, mankind is mankinned. Cain showed how unkind he was in his retort to God's inquiry, "Where is Able thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9). It is interesting to note that in Cruden's Concordance "kindness," is next to "kindred."
The truly blessed enjoy a dual kinship in this world: one in Adam and one in Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15:45-49, the two heads of humanity are contrasted. In Adam we inherit a physical connection, and in Christ we are given a spiritual connection. J.W. McGarvey said, "We are Adam's by generation, and Christ's by regeneration" (157-158).
In both of these realms, we are to have the mind of Christ in our distributions of kindness. May we never grow weary in the work of kindness and, "let us sow our harvest of good deeds as often as we have opportunity to sow, and let us do good toward all men, especially toward all our brethren in God's household of believers" (McGarvey 286). In our associations among our brethren in the flesh and especially among our brethren in Christ, the spirit of kindness will serve to make us more benevolent (Matthew 25:34-36; 1 John 3:17-18), merciful (Matthew 5:7), patient and consoling (Romans 15:1-2, 5), forgiving (Ephesians 4:32), loving (1 Corinthians 13:4; 1 Peter 4:8) and virtuous (2 Peter 1:5-7). Kindness for the Christian is indeed an obligation and not an option. Paul said, "And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient" (2 Timothy 2:24).1
No example of kindness can be found that will even begin to eclipse the grandeur of divine goodness as seen in the life of Christ. The kindness that was the mind of Christ was the goodness that was the life of Christ, as Peter said, when he wrote, "How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power; who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him" (Acts 10:38).
First, let it be observed that Jesus "went about doing good." He was a benefactor, both to the bodies and to souls of men. Christ made it his business to do good to all, and never do harm to any. He was never idle, but always doing, and not only doing, but doing good. He did not confine himself to one place and wait for people to come to him to seek his help, but he went to them. Christ is our example of kindness to others in serving God in generation, because one of the reasons for our existence is to do all the good we can, while we can (Matthew 25:31-46).
Second, let it be noted specifically, that Christ went about "healing all that were oppressed of the devil." It was indeed a kindness that Jesus extended to many that he helped them get out from under the oppression of satanic power. John said, "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8).
In 1988, when former President George Bush received the nomination of his party, he called for a "kinder and gentler nation." In 1990, Alan Highers, editor of The Spiritual Sword, called for "A Kinder and Gentler Brotherhood" (1). Indeed, how many of us have mixed such a vast amount of vinegar and gall in our constitutions that we seem to be unable to make our mark in the world except by objecting, criticizing and finding fault?
If kindness truly issues from the mind of Christ (and it does), then it cannot be said that such kindness is tantamount to weakness, compromise and the fear to speak God's word powerfully and with conviction. One can, in fact he must, be truthful as well as kind with the Gospel of Christ (Ephesians 4:15). Obviously, that does not mean that we must accept all values, ideas, doctrines and beliefs as equally valid.
The Christian must be kind in thought (Philippians 4:8). Be careful of your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny. The Christian must be kind in word (Ephesians 4:31). Cold words freeze people. Hot words scorch them. Bitter words embitter them. Wrathful words enrage them. "Angry words, O let them never from the tongue unbridled slip. May the heart's best impulse ever check them, ere they soil the lip." The Christian must be kind in deed (1 John 3:17-18). Kindness is "a language which the dumb can speak, the deaf can understand." C. N. Bovee
Of all Christian duties, the two greatest are love and forgiveness. In the context of this passage, Peter heard Jesus speak of what to do if a brother sins against another (vss. 15-17). This prompted the familiar question of verse 21, "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?" It was Rabbinic teaching at the time that one must forgive a brother three times: "He who begs forgiveness from his neighbor must not do so more than three times." Such was the mind of the Rabbis. The biblical precedent for this restriction is said to come from the early chapters of Amos, where there are a series of condemnations upon the nations "for three transgressions and for four" (1:3, 6, 9, 11-13; 2:1, 4, 6). "From this it was deduced that God's forgiveness extends to three offenses and that he visits the sinner with punishment at the fourth. It was not to be thought that a man could be more gracious than God, so forgiveness was limited to three times" (Barclay 193).
Perhaps Peter felt that he was stretching the bounds of charity to extend forgiveness from three to seven times. He took the Rabbinic standard, doubled it and added one. Such was the mind of Peter. However, he fell into the same trap of limitation characteristic of the Jews. The Lord rejected Peter's strictness. He said, "I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven" (vs. 22). Such was the mind of Christ. The number "seventy times seven" is obviously symbolic, showing no calculated restrictions. "Forgiveness is qualitative, not quantitative."
This wonderful parable would teach us:
Every sin we commit is a debt to God. We are all debtors, and we owe satisfaction (Romans 3:10-12, 18, 23; 6:23). There is an account being kept of these debts, and we must shortly be called to give an account of them (vs. 24). The debt of sin is so great that we are not able to pay it (vs. 25a). We are without strength, and nothing we have to offer can erase the debt (1 Peter 1:18-19). God, in his sovereignty could demand justice, and condemn us all as insolvent debtors. But, God in his compassion offers mercy to an undeserving humanity through his Son, Jesus Christ.
Our "debt" (sin) is often against others as well (James 3:2). We note with concern the servant's hostile treatment of his fellow servant, notwithstanding his lord's clemency toward him (vss. 28-30). The lesson is a much needed one, as it represents the sin of those who are unmerciful in demanding that which they have a right to receive. Summum jus summa injuria - "Push a claim to an extremity, and it becomes a wrong."
It is owing to God's mercy that we are forgiven of such an enormous debt as sin. It was prophesied of John the Baptist that he would "give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us" (Luke 1:77-78). "Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy" (Micah 7:18).
There is forgiveness with God for all sins, provided sinners repent. If we walk in the light of God's truth, we have the assurance that "the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). It is interesting to note that he word "cleanseth" is a present tense verb in the Greek, meaning that it is continuous in its action as long as we are continuous in our course of walking in the light as he is in the light. Also, we are promised, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:8). The word "forgive" means, "to send away, dismiss; hence of sins, to remit, as a debt" (Vincent 322). The forgiving of the debt is the freeing of the debtor.
The display of compassion on the part of the Lord, in this parable, provides us with motives for our being forgiving of others. First, we must put on the mercy of God. Jesus said, "Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful" (Luke 6:36). Second, we must remember God's forgiveness of us through Christ. Paul said, "And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you" (Ephesians 4:32). Third, we should be motivated by Christ's forgiveness of us. As Paul wrote, "Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye" (Colossians 3:13).
To some people, forgiveness is an unusual show of tolerance on their part. They say, in all seriousness, to the offending, but penitent party, "If you act right from now on, I'll consider forgiving you." This attitude is nowhere near the Lord's ideal for us. Forgiveness is pardon from the heart, not parole! Someone said, "Be careful how you offend me. I never forgive." Said another, "Then I hope you never sin."
We must remember this: We cannot keep other people out of heaven by an unwillingness to forgive them, but we can keep ourselves out of heaven by an unwillingness to forgive them. In Matthew 6:12, the American Standard Version of 1901 rightly gives the force of the past tense, "And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors," since Christ anticipates that those praying for the forgiveness of their own sins have already forgiven others who have sinned against them. It would be useless for us to expect God to forgive us if we have been unforgiving of others (Matthew 6:14-15; James 2:13).
Sometimes the question is asked, "Must we forgive those who sin against us when they neither ask nor want our forgiveness?" What is the mind of Christ in this regard? Let it be remembered that the word "forgive," means "to release; the sending of sins away," thus the restoration of a peaceful relationship which the offending party interrupted with his offense. Jesus made clear our obligation in such cases, when he said, "Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him" (Luke 17:3). Thus, unless the offending party wants reconciliation of the broken relationship, it is impossible for the offended to effect it, no matter how much he might want it. Jesus prayed for those who hated him so much that they sought and carried out his execution, but he did not forgive them until they repented (Acts 2).
To learn the mind of Christ is to learn to live harmoniously among men. The spirit of kindness will prevent us from harboring bitter, revengeful and uncharitable feelings toward anyone. One who lacks a spirit of kindness toward others can only go through life as the most miserable of men.
The attitude of forgiveness will enable us to be ready and willing to forgive all who sin against us, when they repent. Are we willing to ask God to deal with us as we deal with others?
McGarvey, J.W. A Commentary on Thessalonians, Corinthians, Galatians and Romans. Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, n.d.
English Study Bible, 1988.
Highers, Alan E. "Needed: A Kinder and Gentler Brotherhood," The Spiritual Sword. 21.2 (1990): 1.
Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. 2. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975.
Vincent, Marvin R. Word Studies in the New Testament. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973.
1Brother Harold Littrell translates this as follows: "But the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, qualified to teach, forbearing."