Uniquely Relational Grace

Uniquely Relational Grace

Ephesians 4:32

In this blog I want to think about how the gospel informs the value we hold at GCP of being Relational. On our website we define Relational as “Joyfully offering love and grace to everyone regardless of where they are on their spiritual journey.”

Now you might ask, and rightfully so, how is being relational, a unique value? Are not non-Christians relational? The answer to that is – YES!

Being relational on one level is not unique to followers of Jesus Christ.

Whether it’s the gathering of my neighbors for beer pong laughing loudly enough to wake the neighborhood, or the guys and girls playing football in Drexel Park, or the week end parties, or two people sitting at Green Line café with lattes and smiles on their faces, or a couple walking down the street, holding hands and talking as if they’re in a world of their own – being relational is not unique to believers. Sometimes common grace often produces better relationship than grace taken for granted.

Since all humanity bear the vestiges of being created in the image of God (the relational triune God) and since God inhis common grace has given all humanity capacity for moral behavior and giftedness for contributing to the betterment of life on earth, when we talk about being relational, we are talking about something that is similar, yet MORE than what comes from common grace. Gratitude for different aspects of life can cause people to act generously toward others. but it always has its limits. There will always be someone who falls outside the display of common grace.

After a night of beer pong, the combination of testosterone and alcohol inevitably leads to a disagreement and perhaps a fight. I’m ashamed to say that as a young pastor, my competiveness on the basketball court or football field often led to words and attitudes that hurt relationships. Two people sitting as Green Line Café can start out well as friends but leave as enemies. That lovely couple who for a moment shared joyful unity as they walked in hand can quickly turn into anger, and hurting words, and two people walking away from each other. Those of us who are married know well enough how fragile relationships are and that because of our own pride and selfishness the most intimate moments can turn to hurt, silence, and tears.

This is where the gospel raises and empowers a new standard.

So when we talk about being relational, we are talking about more than the kind of relational value that humanity in general experiences because of common grace.

When we talk about being relational we are talking about a relational value that comes from our ‘beholding the glory of Christ in the gospel and being transformed into his likeness.”

We are talking about a value that continues to function well in the midst of sin and brokenness. This is the crux of how we understand the relational value.

The New Testament contains many explicit and implicit references to how the gospel informs our relationship to others. Often the epistles, like here in Ephesians, begin with the foundation of what God has done for us in Christ before they speak about how believers relate to each other, within the family, and to those who are not believers. The Book of Romans is another example of how behavior and relationships are grounded in the gospel.

This is our brief text for this blog:

Ephesians 4:32
32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

I am most interested in the final phrase – ‘forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.’

Let me say a word about the verse in general. I need to make a few technical clarifications so bear with me.

Though the ESV has no conjunction (but, and) most manuscripts contain one that sort of sets this verse apart as not only a contrast to what immediately precedes but possibly as a summary statement of values of the Christian life.

The little word ‘Be” means ‘keep becoming.” These are qualities to pursue – to progressively grow in. (ca. “While beholding, we are being transformed” 2 Cor 3:18).

‘Keep becoming kind (Gracious, pleasant, compassionate). Only used 7x in NT. 3X to describe God’s dealings with sinners (Lk 6:35; Rom 2:4; 1 Pet 2:3); 1X it describes the yoke of Christ (Matt 11:30); 1X it describes the pleasant quality of aged wine (Lk 5:39); 1X to describe good conduct; and here a s a quality to pursue.

“keep becoming tenderhearted (compassionate). Used only 2x in the NT. Here and in 1 Pet 3:8. Both times referring to a desired quality in a believers life (Compassionate, pitiful, tender heart, kind hearted – 4 different translations). You get the point. Growing in grace makes you more caring and compassionate toward people.

We should be tenderhearted because:

… all people are broken

… all people suffer.

We all share the common effects of sin both personally and systemically in the world.

Yes, there is a special interest in the welfare of the Christian family, but our tenderheartedness goes beyond that.

The third phrase can either mean: ‘keep becoming forgiving” (i.e. it is 1 of 3 qualities) or “keep becoming kind and tenderhearted, by forgiving …” (i.e. it is the one quality that accompanies and exemplifies the other two) ‘Forgiving’ is a participle, meaning it has adjectival and verbal qualities.

  1. ‘Keep becoming forgiving’ see more emphasis on the adjectival.
  2. Keep becoming kind and tenderhearted, while or by forgiving one another, sees more emphasis on the verbal aspect.

I understand the second usage to be in force here (as it is used in its parallel passage in Col 3:13). “Forgiving’ is the quality that exemplifies the other two.

Now one other explanation:

The word ‘forgiving’ is not the usual word for forgive. It shaes the same root as the Greek word for ‘grace’ – and though it includes forgiveness, especially in contexts where ‘sin’ is the object, it suggests much more than forgiveness.

“Acting in grace” is an acceptable translation of the Greek word, charizomai, rendered “forgiving” in Ephesians 4:32. Acting in grace catches the essence of how God has acted toward us and our sin against Him. And because He has forgiven us, we are commanded to forgive each other (Colossians 3:13). Anybody focused on himself as the center of the universe will have a difficult time thinking kindly of others, and unity will be difficult, if not impossible. (Forerunner – John W. Ritenbaugh)

So, I don’t prefer the translation ‘forgiving’ because it is too specific and being specific, it is limited.

I prefer the translation ‘acting in grace’ – which encompasses forgiveness and more. Forgiveness is the primary expression of acting in grace.

Our problems in relationship are not just because people have sinned against us and therefore need forgiveness.

Our problems with loving and showing grace to others are more complex than ‘they have sinned against me.’

It may be that I just do not like them – for racial reasons, for reasons of history, for economic reasons, for reasons of jealousy or envy, because my friend doesn’t like them etc. I may need to show grace because they are weak, they are different, etc.

By relational we want to be forgiving and acting in grace toward others in the way that God has acted in grace toward us.

  1. The gospel produces a relational value that is reflective – i.e. act in grace toward others as God has acted in grace toward you.
    1. Generously, undeservedly – (so great it takes the ages to come to comprehend Eph 2)
    2. We are being transformed into people who act in grace while beholding the one who acts in grace toward us.
  2. The gospel produces a relational value that is redemptive – God acting in grace is always with the cross of Christ in view. My acting in grace toward others need always be in the context of the cross – otherwise grace will only be common grace and common grace is fragile grace. Without the cross in view, humility is replace by pride and loving others is replaced by self-interest.

  3. The gospel produces a relational value that is restorative – God’s acting in grace is means to bring us into adoptive relationship, as family – sons and daughters. Acting in grace removes whatever barrier there is to true friendship and fellowship.

Even those of us who know and love the gospel, fail to consistently live out a gospel-informed relational value. I confess my failure. I am disappointed at times at my reactions to people. I realize that intellectually grasping the implications of the gospel is not equivalent to ‘beholding the glory of the Lord, and being transformed into that same image from glory to glory.” Sometimes, I may get the ‘point” and underline the powerful insight, and post it on Twitter, but miss the glory and when you miss the glory, you miss the transformation.

I need to continually ask, How is my growing understanding of the gospel shaping my relationships to others?

Let me close with a story that shows grace at work.

In an emotionally charged courtroom, a South African woman stood listening to white police officers acknowledge their atrocities.

Officer van de Broek acknowledged that along with others, he had shot her 18-year-old son at pointblank range. He and the others partied while they burned the son’s body, turning it over and over on the fire until it was reduced to ashes.

Eight years later, van de Broek and others returned to seize her husband. She was forced to watch her husband, bound on a woodpile, as they poured gasoline over his body and ignited the flames that consumed his body. The last words she heard her husband say were “forgive them.”

Now, van de Broek awaited judgment. South Africa’s Truth and reconciliation Commission asked the woman what she wanted.

“I want three things,” she said calmly. “I want Mr. van de Broek to take me to the place where they burned my husband’s body. I would like to gather up the dust and give him a decent burial.

“Second, Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him.

“Third, I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God and that I forgive him too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real.”

As the elderly woman was led across the courtroom, van de Broek fainted, overwhelmed. Someone began singing “Amazing Grace.” Gradually everyone joined in.

As you continue to grow in your understanding and experience of God’s rich mercy and grace you will cross those barriers of race, economics, and sin with not just a trickling of grace and mercy but a torrent, a flood that comes from the constant overflow of God’s grace and mercy into your life in the gospel.

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On September 10, 1970 I came to understand the great love of God for me, a sinner and a rebel. That evening I received God’s forgiveness and a new life through Jesus Christ, who died in my place and rose again to offer forgiveness and new life. I have been senior pastor for over 30 years planting two churches in Buckingham, PA and Queens, NY and serving two other churches in Brooklyn, NY and Roslyn, PA. I am currently the lead pastor at Grace Church of Philly.

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