14. Aspiring to Kindness

Aspiring Meditations: 14.  Aspiring to know Kindness

Acts 14:17   Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

Gal 5:22   the fruit of the Spirit is ….kindness

Rom 2:4  do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

With this next ‘aspiration’ we move into a less definite or specific area. Kindness is one of those things most of us accept and say we understand in the English language and yet when it comes to defining it, it is not so easy.  So let’s start with a dictionary definition: Kindness = the quality of being friendly, generous, helpful and considerate.

In the first of our verses above Barnabas or Saul, speaking about God, said that the fact that we have rain helping grow crops which provide us with our food, is a sign of God’s kindness, i.e. He is good because He does this. Kindness is clearly something good that can be observed in a person’s attitude or behaviour. There is a gentleness about this word, a sense of soft approach in doing good to another. It has behind it a feeling of well-being towards another which may involve concern and consideration.

When writing to the church at Rome, Paul said it was God’s kindness that worked to lead us to repentance. In that sense God was being gently helpful in leading us towards Himself and to repentance and on to salvation. To Titus, Paul linked it to love and mercy: 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.”  (Titus 3:4,5) When it is used in connection with how the Lord dealt with Joseph in the Old Testament, it has the same feel: “while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.” (Gen 39:20,20) Because God was with and for Joseph, His loving mercy was being expressed to him in the way the Lord spoke into the heart of the prison warder to think well of Joseph and see the good in him. Jeremiah put this characteristic of the Lord right up front: “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) The Lord, he says, delights in being kind, in exercising kindness. It is apt that this study follows on yesterday’s for we see, “Love is patient, love is kind.” (1 Cor 13:4). Kindness is indeed an expression of love.

All of this so far has been about trying to tie down kindness as seen in the Lord, but what about us? It is interesting that the apostle Paul considered kindness as something that commended to apostles to the church: “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: …. in purity, understanding, patience and kindness (2 Cor 6:4-6) Kindness, he implied, is a characteristic of a servant of God. This he spells out to Timothy: “the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” (2 Tim 2:24)

But even more than that, it is to be seen in all of the people of God: “as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Col 3:12) To the Ephesians he simply said,. “Be kind and compassionate to one another,” (Eph 4:32) and to the Thessalonians he said, “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” (1 Thess 5:15). Of course we have already touched on ‘brotherly kindness’ in Peter’s list in his second letter, but from what we have seen above, it is a requisite for every believer according to the apostle Paul.

We need not ask therefore, why should I aspire to this, for it is obvious from the above. But how do I do this, how can I increase it in my life, how can I aspire to more of it expressed through me?  It has to start by the way I view all other people. Many years ago I formulated a church mission statement that started, “To create a growing community of God’s people that is loving, accepting and caring, and which is able to minister God’s love, reconciliation and healing with a servant heart….” If I hold to that statement I will, I believe almost inevitably express kindness to both those inside the church and outside it.

Kindness will be the gentle expression of good-will towards all others, desiring the best for them, but expressed in small and simple ways, showing interest, concern and compassion, being willing to give time and a listening ear and then simply be there with whatever is needed. Again I ponder the question, by what will I be remembered? It almost sounds too soft, but it is certainly a scriptural requirement, so will they be able to say, “He was such a kind man,” or “whenever you were with him you could be sure of receiving kindness,”? If we are kind, people will know it; it is something that communicates, even if we find it difficult to attach precise meanings to it. In the story of Abraham’s servant encountering Rebekah, the servant prayed, “By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.” (Gen 24:14) Perhaps we might put that, “By this I will know that you are working for good for my master,” because that is what is being ‘kind’. When you and I are kind to another, we are doing something for their good, something to bless them. May it be so.

38. Changed Lives (2)

Ephesians Meditations No.38

Eph  4:29-32 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you

We continue with this list of very practical things that Paul is writing about, ways of living out the life we now have with Christ. We remind ourselves again that the Christian life is first of all about what has been done to us by God’s Holy Spirit on the basis of the finished work of Christ on the Cross, and then about how that works out in our everyday lives, the part we have to play in it all. In the previous meditation we saw the first three things that Paul highlighted – the way we speak (truthfully), the way we feel (limiting anger) and then the way we respect other people’s possessions (no stealing). So let’s see how he continues.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths.” Now that is challenging, especially in the light of the today’s tendency to be free and easy in respect of speech. Recently we watched a comedian known for one line jokes, performing for about ten minutes. For the first seven minutes you could not fault his humour but in the last three minutes he slid into sexual innuendo (and not innuendo!). It was as if he just couldn’t keep away from it. We heard of another comedian who decided to do an evening without swearing and found he got just as many laughs and so decided to reduce the language from then on. Comedians (and our acceptance of them) are good gauges of society and sadly in the Britain, we don’t show up very well. It used to be said, “Only say what you could have said in front of your grandmother.” Why a grandmother? I think it is because of our assumption that standards used to be much tighter. We’ve lost a lot. Have you? If you have, it’s time to do a clean up on your language if you are a Christian.

But Paul doesn’t leave the language issue negatively. He continues: “but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” He says what Solomon so often says in the Proverbs: your tongue can be a means of blessing others. Do you bless other with what you say to them? Do they feel built up and encouraged by you?

But then there comes a hidden implication: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” The And’ means that is a continuation from what has just been said. In other words you have the capacity, by what you say, of grieving or upsetting the Holy Spirit who lives in you. He is holy and pure. Is your language holy and pure? If not you will be upsetting the Lord who lives within you. (And then we have the nerve to ask things of Him!!). When you first met your husband/wife/partner and fell in love, I am sure you would have only said things to them that you know would have blessed them, and not said things you knew would have upset them, so why do we say things that we know will upset God?

He then continues with a sweeping list: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” The fruit of the spirit is gentleness (Gal 5:22,23) so how can we equate that which He wants to work out in us with any of the things in this list? We shouldn’t need to work our way through this list should we? These things are things in the life of someone who is disturbed and not at peace with themselves or with God; these are the outworkings of a person who is out of control of their life. Yet the fruit of the Spirit is also self-control (Gal 5:23) and we are told to add self-control to our lives (2 Pet 1:6). Rage and anger’ are expressions of a person out of control, but as Christians this should not be us.Slander and malice’ are expressions of a person out of control, unable to be gracious and that must not be us. ‘Bitterness’ is an emotion that has taken us over, and we must not let that happen.Brawling’ is out of control (drunken?) behaviour that often results in harm or damage – and that must not be us. Check it out: get rid of these if they occur in your life!

But again Paul puts in the positive to counter these negatives: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” This is a totally different sort of person and this is what Christ calls us to. Is that you? Good hearted and gentle and caring and feeling for people? Is that you? Not holding onto grievances? The message is simple and straight forward: Christians are supposed to be nice to be around! In an article I came across recently, an atheist grudgingly conceded that “Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.” I thought that was a tremendous testimony, especially coming from an atheist! But that’s how it is supposed to be. As another writer wrote, “Part of the reason for Christianity’s rapid spread, historians have remarked, was simply that the early Christians were such nice people.” Let’s keep it like that!

(This will be the end of the series in Ephesians for a while – we’re going to have a break but will come back and finish the book in a couple of weeks time)