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What Does it Truly Mean to Be Tender-Hearted?

Christians can sometimes have the tendency to be “hard” hearted. The other day I was scrolling through social media and realized I had just read three very devastating news articles in a row. My heart wasn’t even moved a bit. I didn’t feel sorry for those people. There was no emotional response.

This isn’t how Christians are to respond to sad news. Paul says we should, “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32, KJV). and Peter echoes this thought in 1 Peter 3:8, “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” He uses the word “compassionate,” but it is the same word Paul uses in Ephesians for “tender-hearted.”

What Does Tender Mean?

Ephesians chapter four contains Paul’s teaching on how Christians are supposed to act. He spends the first few verses focusing on how the church should be unified. Our goals, habits, and passions should all align with Christ and God’s will. We may look different, act different, and see the world differently, but we all come together for God’s will. Paul ends that section in Ephesians with verse 16, “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” We are to work together to build up each other in love.

The next section, Ephesians 4:17-32, zooms in to individual believers and how we can build up each other in love. Paul moves from the collective church to the people who make up the church. He speaks about how we should renew our minds, curb our anger, and seek to love one another.

At the end, Paul sums up everything with verse thirty-two. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” The word “compassionate” is our “tender-hearted” word. It is a Greek word that means “love coming from deep inside us.”

This tender-heartedness is not surface-level feelings nor is it fleeting puppy-love. We do not feel a surge of sympathy, and then it passes. It is deep. It is rooted in our very spirit and this kind of compassion lingers.

The dictionary definition for “tender” means to be “delicate or soft.” In our age of the internet and social media, we have the ability to become overwhelmed with the amount of sorrow in our lives. We can be bombarded with heartbreaking news 24/7 if we want. If we are consuming all of this bad news, we might have the tendency to set up a barrier to keep our hearts safe, because being tender hurts.

Paul encourages us, as Christians, to not only be “tender-hearted” but to be tender to fellow Christians. Although we can look at our world and easily be jaded, that isn’t what God has for us. Especially when it comes to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, we must remain tender-hearted.

How to Stay Tender

How do we do this? Paul helps us in the following verses in Ephesians. Ephesians 4:32 says we are to forgive one another. If we sense a hardness in our souls, it might be because we’ve been hurt by others.

There was a time when my best childhood friend disappointed me in a huge way. We stopped speaking and our relationship fractured beyond repair. Over the years I’ve had other people say hurtful things about me, lie about me, distrust me, and dislike me. It would be easy to be hurt and not allow anyone else to come inside my heart.

We stay tender by not allowing past hurts to keep us from forming relationships with other Christians. We forgive. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we have to forget, sweep under the rug, or let that person back in our lives. Forgiveness means we move on and let God heal our hearts.

Staying tender means we choose to love those around us, knowing that our God is our protector and is on our side. One of the things that really helped me move past those hurts caused by others was the idea that God forgave my sin.

Jesus tells the parable in Luke 7:36-50 about two men who owed a creditor money. The first man owed a great debt and the second man owed a small debt. The creditor forgave both men their debts. Jesus asked Simon, the Pharisee, “Who loved the man the most?” (Luke 7:42-43) Simon answered, “the one who was forgiven the most.” Our sins against a holy God are like drops of water and they would fill the ocean. God has forgiven us all of those. How can we not forgive others as well (Matthew 6:14)?

Forgiveness keeps us tender, but so does knowing we are loved. In Ephesians 5:1 Paul goes on to say, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children.” We are dearly loved children of God! Resting in this knowledge that God loves us allows our hearts to remain open.

Even though people (even Christians) will hurt us, God’s love can heal those hurts! Our God’s love can reach beyond what pain people can impart and has the ability to keep us tenderhearted. God’s love never fails, is trustworthy, and covers us.

Jesus as Our Example

Keeping both God’s forgiveness and God’s love in front of us allows us to remain tenderhearted. Ephesians 4:32 & Ephesians 5:1 remind us that our example is Christ. If a man suffered during His lifetime, it was Christ. He was rejected, mocked, lied about, and killed but His heart remained tender.

Even on the cross, Christ said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The very men who were killing Him, He forgave. Being tender-hearted and not losing that compassion for others was how Christ lived! So many times it says Christ had “compassion” for people.

Matthew 9:36 - When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Matthew 14:14 - When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Matthew 15:32 - Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”

Matthew 20:34 - Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

Mark 6:34 - When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

Luke 7:13 - When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

Hebrews 4:15 - For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

What Happens When We Are Tender?

Christian, it is easy to be hard-hearted. It is more difficult to be tender-hearted. Staying tender, soft, and compassionate is not wasted. It will not lead down a path of misery. In fact, when we do, we are able to accomplish several things.

Being tender-hearted…

Reveals a humble heart (1 Peter 3:8). Do you want to have more humility in your heart? Remaining tender will cultivate a heart that is humble. Pride has no room in our hearts when we are compassionate to others.

Reminds us of mercy (Ephesians 4:32). When we are tender-hearted, we are reminded that God’s mercy extends to us. As we forgive others, our Father in heaven causes us to remember how He has forgiven us.

Comforts others (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Remaining tender-hearted allows us to comfort others. We are more sympathetic and can offer comfort to those who are suffering. If we are hard-hearted, how would we rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn? (Romans 12:15)

Shows others God’s love (1 John 3:17). God’s love extends through us. We are God’s hands and feet to give, love, and provide for those in need. Remaining tender-hearted to those around us is a way to demonstrate the amazing love of God!

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Irina Vodneva 


headshot of author Sarah FrazerSarah E. Frazer is a writer and Bible study mentor. Sarah is the wife of Jason and mother of five. She and her family serve as full-time missionaries in Honduras. Her passion is to encourage women to start today with a Bible reading and prayer habit. Sarah is the author of several self-published Bible study resources for women. She shares tools and encouragement for Bible and prayer study on her blog: sarahefrazer.com.

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