EKG: Giving Your Heart a (Spiritual) Health Check
In my last blog, I dealt with the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche in Philippians. By taking a closer look at the context and Paul's focus in the letter as a whole, we saw that this was not some mere passing squabble, but that it may have been the basis for his entire message. The solution was that they have "the same mind," "that they think the same way" - specifically, that they think as Christ did, humbling themselves, believing the best of each other and trusting the outcome to God.
It was another stark reminder to us that the only heart we are responsible for is our own. When we are at odds with another person our natural tendency is to seek to convince that other person of their wrongness and our blindingly obvious rightness; we aim to speak and not to listen. But when you have two people such as Euodia And Syntyche both convinced of the reality of their rights, the obstinance of the other, and the importance of the immediate necessity to speak, what results is so far away from the example of Jesus that you wouldn't be able to pick it up on a radar!
When Paul points them to the model of Christ they are shown that the one to whom every knee will one day bow and whose deity every tongue will one day confess did not decide to control His enemies who should have bowed before Him, but instead sought to control His own heart so that He could love them despite their rejection and abuse of Him.
This was the solution for those warring women, and it is the solution for us too - we must focus on our hearts and not judge the hearts of others. Or as Jesus put it, take the log out of our eye before trying to get a glimpse of the speck in the other person's.
Walk in a manner worthy of the calling
But how do we keep a check on our hearts and avoid the distraction of looking at our perception of the hearts of others? One helpful verse in this regards is found in Ephesians 4:32.
In chapter 4 of Ephesians Paul is dealing with our practical walk in the light of the blessings God has poured out upon us. See how he starts each section with the word "walk" in 4:1, 4:17, 5:1-2,5:15. This part of the letter is about how we live.
In the section beginning in 4:17 Paul urges us to "no longer walk" as the Gentiles do - they walk in the "futility of their mind." Note again the connection between the way that we think and the way that we live that we noted last time in Philippians. This whole section is dealing with the distinctiveness of the Christian walk compared to unbelievers.
At the end of this section, we have a series of commands - both negative and positive. In 4:31 we have the negative:
"Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice." These reactions may be "normal" to the world when they perceive that they are being mistreated, but they are not for the Christian who is to have the mind of Christ. Then in 4:32 we have the positive - "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven you." This is what I want us to focus on.
Kindness, Empathy, and Grace
Firstly, when we are tempted to respond harshly to someone Paul reminds that we are always to respond kindly - we are to treat the other person well, with a view to what is best for them; gently rather than harshly. It is sad how often as Christians we are distinguished by a meanness rather than kindness. I know personally to my shame just how easily a firm refusal to capitulate on the truth can spread to an unnecessary and unbiblical harshness in interpersonal relationships. Our kindness should distinguish us.
Secondly, we are to be tender-hearted. This is what we typically refer to as empathy - seeing something from the perspective of the other person and caring about how they feel and how the present situation impacts them.
And thirdly, we are to forgive, or more literally we are to "grace" - we are to "grace" others as God has "graced" us in Christ. In other words, we are to mimic the heart of God shown in forgiving us our sins, loving us when we were His enemies and pouring out His riches on undeserving sinners such as us. That is the model of how were are to treat others.
EKG - A Spiritual Electrocardiogram
A doctor can test the health of our hearts with an electrocardiogram or EKG. It is a test that measures the electrical activity of the heart; it is a way of checking that our hearts are functioning as they ought to.
Similarly, we can use the acronym EKG to perform a test of our hearts based on Ephesians 4:32.
E = Empathy
K = Kindness
G = Grace
So when we find ourselves in a situation where the behaviour of another person or the circumstances of life we are confronted with tempt us to respond as if we were not saved and not empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit - with harshness, anger, malice and the like - we would do well to get in the habit of performing a spiritual EKG on ourselves and checking the health of our hearts.
E = Empathy
Why is this person reacting this way? Is there some sinful manner in which I have treated them that they are responding to? Maybe they have had a tough day, are tired, or are just overwhelmed by the trials of life? This doesn't justify their behaviour, but that is not our concern - we can only deal with our hearts. And surely we know how easily we can take out our frustrations on others? Our job is to empathise with the other person and use that as our basis for interacting with them. In such situations, the person we usually care about is ourselves - our feelings, our trials, and our hurts. It is them we must prefer - it is them we must care for.
K = Kindness
If we can empathise and care for this person, then we have a foundation on which to build kindness. We treat them as we want to be treated. If we are harsh, angry or agitated we would not want someone to respond in the same way; we would want them to listen to us, to care for our frustrations, concerns, and hurts, and to respond in kindness. We would want them to overlook our faulty behaviour and treat us well regardless. So that is how, having empathised with them, we must respond.
G = Grace
Of course, our sinful hearts will rise up and grumble at such a suggestion: "They do not deserve to be treated this way! If I respond like this, they will take advantage of my kindness!" Indeed - they do not deserve such kindness, and they may well take advantage of it. Their behaviour may not adjust one iota in response to your kindness - in fact, it may even get worse! But does this not remind us of another relationship?
Do we deserve the kindness of God? Do we not respond to the grace he has shown us in Christ by continuing to sin and fail Him? Does His kindness not result in our taking that grace for granted on many occasions? Is this not the very heart of what distinguishes a Christian walk - that we should mirror the grace God has shown to us in Christ in the way we treat others? "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us!"
And so, when we are tempted to respond as if Christ had not taken undeserving sinners such as us and poured out his undeserved love upon us, lavishing us with the riches of His grace, let us pause. Let us not react but rather check our hearts. Think of them, care for them; show them kindness; treat them as God has treated you. I have found the EKG acronym to be useful tool easily accessible if not quite so easily applied.
As I said in my last post, imagine if we all treated each other this way! Consider the good it would do for our homes, our marriages, our churches! Consider what it would do for our witness! So let us walk in a manner worthy of our calling, checking our hearts with that spiritual EKG as we go.