By Brian Jennings
The village lacked running water or electricity. I’d just finished preaching a sermon outdoors on a warm Sunday afternoon, when the local preacher invited me for tea in his small two-room home. They noticed how quickly I drank my first cup of tea, so they swiftly offered another. There it was.
Back in my city, the food pantry volunteer knew that two of our clients, who had come to receive prayer, encouragements, and groceries, lived almost a mile away. They’d have to haul their groceries home in the dark, navigating some tough neighborhoods. Our volunteer asked us, “Can I break protocol and offer them a ride home?” There it was again.
You see it played out in dramatic fashion, but you most often see it in the routine of daily life. Kindness brings beauty and hope to our world. A simple act of kindness may sustain us for days, months, or years. When a flower blooms in the desert, it dominates the landscape.
The Bible says a lot about this beautiful byproduct of the Spirit. Some of God’s Word is easy to hear, but sometimes it challenges us to our core. The Bible’s teaching about kindness does both:
1. Kindness is a command, not an optional personality trait.
The Bible doesn’t give us wiggle room to be rude and then say, “Sorry, that’s just my personality.” Unkindness is sin. Unkindness is evil.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12).
We are to wear kindness like a blanket on a cold day. It should wrap around everything we do and be noticeable to all. People should never have to search us to find a trace of kindness.
The kindest people I know are both reactive and proactive. They respond to needs they find, but they don’t wait for needs to arise; they go looking for them. Jordan Rice in a Preaching-Teaching Convention sermon called this “grace on the offense.” We shouldn’t stand back on our heels; we should actively pursue opportunities to extend God’s love. If we look, we’ll find.
2. We are to be kind, even to the unkind.
Anyone can be nice to nice people. Well, at least most people can. But Jesus gives us a higher calling—one so unique that even the most hardened heart will see a glimpse of true love.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:32-36).
Being treated unkindly ought not surprise us. God told us to expect it. Our heart will hurt just like any mistreated person’s, but our response will be wildly different.
Showing kindness to the wicked seems unfair until we remember that God was kind to us. Never has the gap in kindness been greater than when God showed kindness to us. The distance between God’s perfection and our imperfection can only be measured with the cross.
3. Kindness leads to lasting influence.
King Solomon was dead, so his son Rehoboam now wore the crown. Rehoboam wisely sought input into how to govern the people. However he ignored the wise advisors, turning his ear to the foolishness spewing from the mouths of his youthful friends:
“The young men who had grown up with him replied, ‘The people have said to you, “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter.” Now tell them, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My fathers scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions”’” (2 Chronicles 10:10, 11).
Rehoboam used intimidation and oppression as his governing tools. Soon, as you’d expect, rebellion and destruction ensued.
There was a reason Jesus’ followers were willing to die for him. In him they found truth and kindness. They saw someone treat them with dignity, respect, and grace. They watched him heal the lame and feed the hungry. They heard how he spoke to children. He led with kindness.
Intimidation can help you get your way temporarily, but it’s a horrible way to lead. People grow bitter, and they give you the bare minimum. However, when people lead with kindness, those around them will do anything for them.
4. Scripture is bursting with commands to show kindness to the poor, weak, and vulnerable.
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:37-40).
You can open your Bible anywhere, and it will be difficult for you to turn many pages in either direction without seeing how much God cares for people in need. His commands to care for the oppressed weave throughout the Law, Poetry, Prophets, the Gospels, and every biblical genre. God makes it repetitively clear: his people must care for the poor, the widow, the fatherless, the foreigner, the ostracized, and the sick.
God commanded farm owners to leave some crops for the stranger or foreigner who walked through their field (see Ruth for a beautiful example). He commanded his people to fight injustice, crooked courts that favor the rich, and systems that oppress the weak. And the first church made caring for the poor and hungry a huge priority. They collected funds and organized a system to feed the hungry.
5. God’s kindness is perfectly displayed in Jesus and through the Spirit.
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7).
Jesus felt compassion for the distressed throng of people (Matthew 9). When he saw a widow whose son had died, “his heart went out to her” (Luke 7). He resisted the temptation to look away from needs. He stared them down, and then he acted. Kindness requires awareness plus action.
God kindly gave us the perfect role model to follow. While we can never match the kindness of Jesus, we can strive to imitate him. Our efforts will fall short, but God’s Spirit will enable us to be more kind than we ever possibly could on our own. Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit, not restricted to human capacity. It’s much better than a fruit-of-better-effort. The Spirit transforms us. I think we can all identify with Titus 3:3-5. It reads like a checklist of our guilt, but also our hope:
• “At one time we too were foolish” [check, yes I’m guilty, that was me],
• “disobedient” [check],
• “deceived” [check]
• “and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures” [check].
• “We lived in malice and envy” [check],
• “being hated and hating one another” [check].
• “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” [check!].
God’s kindness can transform you (Romans 2:4; Jeremiah 31:3), giving you kindness that points people to the unsurpassed love of Christ. Let’s be known for our kindness, let’s be amazed by the kindness the Holy Spirit empowers us to exhibit, and let’s allow the kindness of Christ to rule our hearts.
Brian Jennings ministers with Highland Park Christian Church, Tulsa, Oklahoma, writes (leadyourfamily.net), and serves Blackbox International.