Most likely we could consider kind and tenderhearted as two different injunctions. However, it seems best to reflect on them together as complimentary expressing two dimensions of the same matter.
Kind seems to focus on the actor. The instruction regarding the actor’s relating to another has at least three dimensions. First, it is about attitude. The effect of kindness will not be forthcoming in a relationship unless the actor has an attitude of submission towards the Lordship of Christ and an attitude of valuing the other person, the spouse, above oneself. In other words we must have an attitude of humility and honor if we are going to exercise kindness—an act of helpfulness that demonstrates genuine concern
Second, if we are going to be kind we must be intentional. We have to think about being kind. We have to plan to be kind. We have to engage in action to be kind. For example, I have a friend who is dying of cancer. The spouse is an individual who had a difficult life for the first thirty years. As a result this person is what Isaiah termed a tender shoot. This couple only came into our circle of friends in the past five years so there are no long term friendships. It has been a delight to watch (and be part of) a circle of folks from our church who have encircled this tender shoot. On several Sundays I saw different folks who are part of this circle spot the tender shoot sitting alone in church and during the greeting moments gather their belongings and move to join this individual in the pew.
Thirdly, it is a matter of manner. Sometimes we can have the right attitude, be intentional but engage in way that the receiver does not feel the kindness. So, the manner in which kindness is expressed must be coordinated with the circumstances. A husband who has the right attitude and the right intent would be well advised to not stop by Target and purchase an inexpensive red bath robe on his way to the hospital where his wife has just delivered their child under emergency conditions. He would do much better to stop by the house and pick up her favorite blue satin robe (maybe not the best illustration, but you get the picture).
Tenderheartedness focuses on the object of our concern. That is, it is being sensitive to the feelings of the other person. Here are three places this word is used in the Bible. Each one gives us a different perspective.
In John 11:33 this word is rendered “Jesus wept.” Jesus identified with the hurt and pain of the loss of the women’s brother. No doubt in this case the weeping had additional depth as he contemplated the curse of death. Nonetheless, he expressed tenderheartedness by weeping with those who wept.
We find this word use in a negative context in I John 3:17 where the author is saying that we should not be like the brother who sees a need and overlooks engaging with the one in need.
In 2 Corinthians 6:11 Paul uses this word to encourage believers to make evident their affection for one another.
By looking at these three usages of the Greek word tenderhearted we can see that it involves identification with the person—in marriage, the spouse. We observe also that being tenderhearted should not be overlooked when a need is obvious. Thirdly, it is evident that the demonstration of affection towards fellow believers and especially to our spouse should be part and parcel of Christian relationships.
Putting these two complimentary instructions together brings them to a heightened intensity that certainly contributes to an enjoyable marital relationship. It is just one more time when we are reminded that obedience to God’s instructions not only glorifies God but brings joy to our lives.