By Natalie Seale
It’s cool to be kind!
Throw kindness around like confetti!
Maybe you’ve read these words on social media recently, on a sweatshirt, a notepad, or via someone else’s blog. Maybe you just read them for the first time today and you hadn’t recognised the slow and steady attempts that are being made all around us to create a “culture of kindness.”
This sounds great, right? But the worry in my heart is that when we are bombarded everyday with reminders of the importance of being kind, it diminishes the true value of kindness. It makes it sound like kindness is just being pleasant and nice, getting along with everyone, and smiling through it all – something mundane, run of the mill, unimportant. But we can rejoice because the Bible shows us another portrait of kindness that is different, complex, and far more compelling than the one that is sold to us on Pinterest.
It would be easy to think that kindness is one of the lesser fruits of the spirit, because we find it nestled right there in the middle of Galatians 5:22. Not quite important enough to be listed first, nor something strong to finish with. But, like any of the God-given gifts listed there, true kindness comes directly from the Spirit. It is God’s way of orienting our hearts towards others, whether they deserve it or not. Whether we are loved or hated for it, the Bible calls us to show kindness to strangers, to friends, to our families, to people of our faith and others:
“And when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, I said to her, ‘This is the kindness you must do me: at every place to which we come, say of me, “He is my brother.”’ – Genesis 20:13
This and other verses like it are, essentially, practical instructions that tell us how we might show kindness to one another through our thoughts and actions. But God knows that it isn’t enough just to tell us to be kind, because as humans we work better when we follow His example. Our Heavenly Father is no stranger to people doubting, disobeying, and disregarding Him – after all, the Bible is the story of His unwavering kindness and faithfulness in the face of a people who didn’t deserve it and didn’t show love to Him in return. God’s chosen people took His kindness for granted, but Romans 2:4 teaches us that we cannot do that:
“Or 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?”
God is not simply kind because He is good – His kindness serves a much greater purpose: to lead His people to repentance. This verse also tells us much more about what kindness really is, by linking it to forbearance (that is, self-control, restraint and tolerance) and patience (defined as the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting upset). Through the Spirit we are granted these gifts in the hope that we might be able to imitate God by following His ways. Jesus tells us:
“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 evil.” (Luke 6:35)
Kindness is also closely linked to forgiveness. Ephesians 4:32 is another of those verses that we come across all the time, so we have become dulled to its real power. In it we are told that being kind means having tender hearts, and forgiving one another – just as God has forgiven us through the person of Jesus Christ. That this forgiveness occurred through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is a reminder that kindness isn’t always nice or pleasant. In fact, we often miss the nature of true kindness because it is dressed up as something painful: the end of a relationship or friendship that was holding you back, or the intervention of a friend or family member in addiction or an eating disorder.
“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
Sometimes it hurts, but we are able to recognise true kindness in the actions of others in the end. By the same token, we have to stand firm in our own conviction that we are helping ourselves, or someone else, by doing hard things.
The Greek word for “kind” is chrestos. Part of its meaning is “useful,” which underlines the fact that Biblical kindness has to involve some kind of action. We are told to love not in word but in deed and truth (1 John 3:18) – in other words, that it isn’t enough just to utter kind words. We have to follow through and demonstrate our capacity for love and forgiveness in the things that we do everyday. And even then, it isn’t enough to just wait for an opportunity to show kindness to someone else to come along – we have to actively seek out opportunities to show kindness.
Have you ever been the recipient of a random act of kindness? Or have you ever done something for a stranger, knowing that you didn’t have to, but that it would make their day? That is the kindness that comes from the fruit of the spirit. It is a kindness that recognises generosity and self-sacrifice – because whether we give our money or our time, we are giving something away to someone else knowing that we ourselves cannot have it.
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them… when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:1-4
This is a pretty long verse, but an important one when it comes to thinking about spiritual kindness. Impressing others should never be our motivation when it comes to being kind to others. Though helping someone so they might return the favour in the future isn’t wrong – after all, friends help out friends all the time – God is encouraging us to go further than that. He encourages us to show kindness to others humbly, quietly, even anonymously, with no expectation of anything in return. To family, friends, strangers, the poor, the needy, the sick, the grieving… really, to everyone.
He calls us to meet other people exactly where they are and treat them with love, compassion, patience, and kindness – in other words, to display the presence of the Spirit within us.
Though in this series we are considering each fruit separately, it is important to remember that the gifts we are granted from the Spirit are all connected. They all link together, and displaying just one of these wonderful traits feeds all of the others.
When we display kindness, we spread His love.
We are granted His peace.
We act out of goodness, with the gentleness and patience that we learn from Him.
We are demonstrating our faithfulness.
And when we do all of these things, we are living just as God has intended us to. Alleluia!
“Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness and honour.” – Proverbs 21:21
Natalie is a Yorkshire lass who recently moved all the way to San Antonio, Texas, to live with her husband Quincy. She has a PhD in Renaissance history and until recently taught undergrads and post-grads at the University of Edinburgh. Her passion is for teaching, but in the process of applying for a visa she discovered a new love for writing devotionals and lettering by hand. Good coffee, old books, family time, warm jumpers and Texas sunsets are some of her favourite things. Her heart is to live a life full of the love and joy of God, and in doing so help others to achieve their potential.