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  • Writer's pictureRevShirleyMurphy

Kindness in a World Gone Mad



I was waiting in line with my son at a shop to pay for his clothes which we had bought when the T-shirt caught my eye: Kindness is free — so sprinkle that stuff everywhere.


I’m sympathetic to the message at one level. To many, the world feels meaner in recent years, and perhaps especially so since the last election cycle, COVID-19, and civil unrest. Yes, genuine human kindness, in the most basic of senses, has often been sorely lacking. More kindness would indeed be nice, and perhaps shine in new ways in times when we’re coming to expect meanness and outrage everywhere.


But as admirable as the instincts behind the message are, the initial claim is badly mistaken. No, real kindness — the kind we really long for and need — is not free. And perhaps it would help us all to come to terms with that up front. Real kindness is costly.


Deep down, we know that we live in a mean world — too mean to keep the meanness constantly at the forefront of our minds. Yet at times — more frequent for some than others — the meanness, the evil afoot in this world, accosts us.


Kindness is underrated. We equate it with being nice or pleasant, as though it’s mainly about smiling, getting along, and not ruffling feathers. It seems a rather mundane virtue.


But the Bible presents a very different, and compelling, portrait of kindness.


Christians have long celebrated kindness as one of the heavenly virtues. Yet we live in a day that often makes very little of kindness. We assume it’s free. We celebrate “random acts of kindness.” We think of kindness without context. Of course, in our mean world, it is pleasant to be surprised by a stranger’s kindness, free and random as it may seem. Sure, sprinkle that stuff everywhere. But the Christian vision of kindness is far deeper, more significant, and contextualized.


Christian kindness is no common courtesy or virtue in a vacuum, but a surprising response to mistreatment and hurt. It is not random or free, but a costly, counterintuitive response to meanness, to outrage, rather than responding in kind. As Don Carson comments on 1 Corinthians 13:4, “Love is kind — not merely patient or long-suffering in the face of injury, but quick to pay back with kindness what it received in hurt” (Showing the Spirit, 79).


One way to see that Christian kindness is not random is to observe the kind of company it keeps, especially in the letters of Paul — who would be “the apostle of kindness,” if there were one. No one sprinkles costly kindness like Paul.


Among other graces, kindness often appears hand in hand with patience and compassion. Patience appears side by side with kindness, and in the same order, in 2 Corinthians 6:6 and Galatians 5:22: “patience, kindness.” So also, Paul presses them together in Romans 2:4, in speaking of divine patience and kindness: “Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”


True kindness is Spirit-produced (Galatians 5:22). It’s a supernaturally generous orientation of our hearts toward other people, even when they don’t deserve it and don’t love us in return. God himself is kind in this way. His kindness is meant to lead people to repentance (Romans 2:4), which implies they haven’t yet turned to him, and are still his enemies.


We imitate God’s kindness, therefore, by loving our enemies. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35). Our kindness reflects the heart of our Father. “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).


Kindness may not be pleasant. In fact, it may feel more like a blow to the head. “Let a righteous man strike me — it is a kindness; let him rebuke me — it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it” (Psalm 141:5). Jesus called the Pharisees a brood of vipers. That wasn’t pleasant, but it was kind, because Jesus was exposing their sin. A kind physician cuts deep to get your cancer.


In other words, the heart of how we become kinder — not with free, random, imitation kindness, but with thick, genuine, Christian kindness — is knowing and enjoying the kindness of God toward us, and doing so specifically by feeding on, and taking our cues from, the very words of God.


Our world, in its rebellion and cosmic treason, is no meaner than in its meanness to God himself — God who is holy and just. And yet what shocking kindness he displays, even toward the unbelieving. Our heavenly Father “is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35). Even those who live the hardest, meanest of lives are surrounded by rays of God’s common kindness, as we might call it: beautiful days, human minds and bodies and words, friends and family, food and shelter, the everyday divine kindnesses we take for granted until they’re gone.


As Paul preached at Lystra, even “in past generations,” before Christ, when God “allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways,” he showed the unbelieving his common kindness, and “did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:16–17). Such kindness even in our day, gratuitous as it may seem to us, is not wasted. It is not random but has purpose: “meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4).


For some of us, watching sports, or talent shows (like The Voice), provides an opportunity for airing harsh opinions on physical appearance, ineptitude, or lack of talent. Our verbal slashes too easily become part of the entertainment itself.


For some of us, the daily commute becomes a crucible of kindness. Am I generously inclined toward other drivers, including the guy who just cut me off and the other one who’s tailgating me?


Some of us have to admit that we too often twist the verbal knife of cruel sarcasm, saying what we don’t mean in order to drive home more deeply what we do.


Kindness is no small thing. It yields marvellous fruit both in our lives and the lives of those around us. “Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor” (Proverbs 21:21).


We open ourselves to the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit when we ask him to produce in us kind hearts that overflow through kind lips.


Ultimately, it is the kindness of God that melts an unforgiving spirit, softens a hard heart, and transforms unkind actions. In Christ, we become the kind of people who see others, and have compassion for them, and exercise patience toward them, and show kindness to them, knowing not only that we ourselves have been shown kindness but that “in the coming ages [God himself will] show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). We have only begun to taste the kindness of our God.


Sources

Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14 - D. A. Carson

Kindness: Nine Fruits of the Spirit Series -Robert Strand

Love Kindness: Discover the Power of a Forgotten Christian Virtue - Barry H. Corey

Deep Kindness: A Revolutionary Guide for the Way We Think, Talk, and Act in Kindness – Houston Kraft

One Year Daily Acts of Kindness Devotional - Kristin Demery

The Kindness of God - David Whitten Smith

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