Lady Macbeth complained that her husband had too much of ‘the milk of human kindness!’ Indeed, kindness is a very human virtue, within the power of all to show, and even more, something all are in need of! Luke records how the non-believing ‘native people (of Malta) showed unusual kindness,’ toward the survivors of the shipwreck recorded in Acts 28. A kind countenance, a gentle word, a helpful act, a considerate gesture are all gifts of God’s common grace, found in all people, which enrich and nourish our daily lives.
One could be forgiven therefore for questioning why Paul includes ‘kindness’ in his list of the fruits of the Spirit! What is spiritual about this very human quality? Christians do not presume to have a monopoly on acts of kindness, so is Paul encouraging a purely human virtue?
What is spiritual kindness?
Kindness, as a fruit, is that implanted and empowered disposition that flows from the Spirit’s abiding presence within a person. The Spirit utilises that propensity, innate in every human being, to manifest empathy and sympathy. The distinction between a natural act of kindness and that fruit, of which the Spirit is the source, is the spirit which motivates such acts, the spirit in which it is carried out and the depths to which this kindness is prepared to go. It is the opposite of self-centredness, for it thinks and cares for others at the cost of denying self. It is a committed spontaneity in being ready to show kindness, from a heart that has been softened to respond to see need.
The kindness of God
As with all the Spirit’s fruits, the character of God is the motivational model. A God whose kindness is so vast, so elaborate, and so constant that Paul tells us that the ‘riches of his kindness should lead us to repentance’ (Rom. 2:4). The Christian has personally experienced the immensity of God’s kindness. Paul tells Titus,
‘But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour’ (Titus 3:4-6).
Christians have received a merciful, yet totally undeserved, life-changing ministry of God’s kindness and love in saving them, through the renewing power of the Spirit. This enduring ministry of God’s grace to them, Paul says, is ‘so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus’ (Eph. 2:7). Those who have received such grace and kindness are to manifest its fruit in their life.
Putting on kindness
Why then can kindness be sadly absent from Christian lives? When Paul encourages Christians to ‘put on’ kindness (Col. 3:12), he is reminding them of what is clearly within their power to do, through the Spirit’s indwelling. They possess the patience to continue to live in this spirit of kindness and the persistence to do so even when their kindness is abused, as they seek to imitate their perfect Heavenly Father. But the fact that Paul writes these words also points out that it is possible to neglect cultivating this attitude of kindness! This sad neglect arises from a failure to keep fresh in the heart the nature of God’s kindness received, and a growing indifference to the Spirit’s promptings.
This kindness is discerning, understanding that its ministry may be refused or despised. It does not consider itself a doormat that people walk over when it is taken for granted. It does not believe that ‘too much kindness can kill you!’ Neither does it allow one to become its own arbiter of dispensing kindness as it seems fit. It is not so haughty to think it can choose to neglect to offer that gentle smile of welcome on Sunday mornings at church, or that it is a matter of indifference whether to say a friendly ‘hello’ to newcomers. For this spirit of kindness by which Christians are called to live is an attitude of heart that is ready to take every opportunity. It does so even to the extent of thinking good thoughts toward those who abuse them. It offers the other cheek when slapped and gives it’s coat when it’s cloak has already been taken. (Matt. 5:39). Amy Carmichael wrote, ‘If I can write an unkind letter, speak an unkind word, think an unkind thought without grief or shame, then I know nothing of Calvary love.’
There is perhaps no finer exposition of the human fruit of the divine grace of kindness than our Lord’s parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan showed an opportunist kindness as he was passing by. It was within his power to withhold or display kindness to the beaten man. Why did he stop when others had passed by? Was it not because his kind response to this opportunity was an expression of his character. God’s character, position and power mean he takes every opportunity to manifest his kindness to all, irrespective of their place, race, evil or good acts or unthankful spirit. For he, ‘makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust’ (Matt. 5:45). Christians are to endeavour to be perfect like their Heavenly Father (Matt. 5:48) and be ready to take every opportunity to manifest kindness.
The Samaritan traveller showed an unexpected kindness when he stopped to help the Jewish man lying beaten by the roadside. It was a roll your sleeves up and get your hands dirty kindness as he bathed his wounds. It was an undeserved kindness that he showed to a stranger from a race of people that considered him and his kin as not worthy of recognition! It was more than just a one-off act, for he showed an unending commitment to be kind when he said he would return to see how the man was recovering. He did not count the cost of his kindness, for he was ready to foot the bill on his return! A readiness to stop and respond to the opportunity, a willingness to invest time, a commitment of resources and an on-going concern are a beautiful demonstration of the kindness God showers on his undeserving creatures. A practical demonstration of the love of God in ministering kindness to those in need.
A kind people
The great church Father, Tertullian, wrote that pagans called the early Christians by the name (Chrestiani), which means ‘kindness’ rather than Christiani (Christian). They recognised the followers of Jesus were known for their kindness, one which pointed pagans to Christ. Called to be like Christ, the perfect human being, it is vital that this most ‘human’ of the Spirit’s fruit is seen in the life of professing Christians! That begs the question, is the fruit of kindness flourishing in my life as a Christian?
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