22. Good Heartedness (2)

Meditations in 1 Thessalonians

Part 3 :  22. Good Heartedness (2)

1 Thess 5:15   Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.

I realise as I look at this verse that we have only dealt with the first part of it as we considered the subject of vindictiveness and getting back at people. I suggested four ways of overcoming that sort of attitude and behaviour and the fourth one, somewhat belatedly added I took from 1 Pet 3:9 where Peter suggested instead of repaying in like kind, repaying with a blessing. Of course the second part of our verse above adopts the same approach: respond to bad with good.

Now we quoted Paul saying to the Romans, Do not repay anyone evil for evil,” (Rom 12:17), but actually in that same chapter twice he uses this same principle: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse,” (Rom 12:14) and “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:21) There is that same thing: instead of retaliating with bad, respond with good, and now in our verse above, respond with kindness.

So let’s think on the second half a bit more: “always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” A dictionary definition for ‘kind’ includes, ‘sympathetic, friendly, gentle, tender hearted, generous,cordial,  loving, affectionate’. In one of his ‘comparison’ sets of verses Paul says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another.” (Eph 4:31,32) He sets kindness off against a whole raft of hostile behaviour.  In his famous ‘love verses’ Paul starts off, “Love is patient, love is kind.” (1 Cor 13:4)  i.e. being kind to others is one expression of that love that Jesus calls to exhibit.

If we consider the word ‘kindness’ we see first Paul uses it of God: “He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons.” (Acts 14:17) God’s provision of the Creation is an act of His kindness. But this kindness is part of God’s character, part of the way He expresses love: “In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD your Redeemer.” (Isa 54:8) Jeremiah brought the same sort of thing: “let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” (Jer 9:24) Now note that he didn’t use the word love in respect of the threefold description of what He does.

When speaking of justice and righteousness the more appropriate word the Lord uses is ‘kindness’ because although we have said it is an expression of love, it has about it an element of mercy in it, acting favourably to others who perhaps may not warrant our good will – but we give it anyway. If we look back at the two previous verses quoted we see how it is applicable there. God knew how we would turn out, using our free will to reject Him but nevertheless, in kindness, He gave us this wonderful world to bless us.  In the Isaiah quote, they had sinned and His holy response was to turn from their evil, but yet with kindness He expresses compassion. It is mercy within His love.

Do you see why the instruction to ‘be kind’ to those who speak ill or do ill towards you, is now appropriate? If it is love with an element of mercy within it, it is definitely us acting favourably to others who do not warrant our good will – but we give it anyway! Suddenly this instruction in the second half of this verse takes on more power.  The natural response to being treated badly is to respond badly, but that is not Christ’s way, it is to respond with kindness, mercy within love.

When we become aware of this we find it again and again in Scripture, for example, “do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” (Rom 2:4)  This ‘mercy within love’ was there all the time in God’s work of drawing us to Himself. We didn’t deserve good but ‘mercy within love’ brought it anyway!  Suddenly we spot kindness in places we had never noticed before, for instance consider Paul speaking about their behaviour: “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God.” (2 Cor 6:4-7) In the midst of all the other things that testify to God’s love and grace through them as they ministered, there was ‘kindness’. Kindness – mercy within love – is to be a characteristic found in us Christians. It is part of God’s character and therefore as he lives in us and expresses Himself through us, we will express it, for, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal 5:22,23)

So we are to express this ‘mercy within love’ “to each other and to everyone else.” It is not to be limited just to the way we treat our brothers and sisters but, even more, to every one we meet. It is more likely to be needed with non-Christians because they are more likely to treat us unfavourably. So, ‘mercy within love’ to all we meet today. We’ll only be able to be like that by His grace but as He dwells within us, it is there for the taking. May it be so.

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