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“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
“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).
If you were around in the 1980s and early 1990s, you may remember these huge square reels of videotape that contained movies and a place called Blockbuster Video where you could rent these VHS tapes to play in your VCR. This was before the ease, immediacy and convenience of DVDs, Netflix, YouTube and Hulu. These tapes are archaic now; they had to be rewound after they were watched and before they were returned to the video store. If you were to rent one of these tapes, there likely would be a sticker on the top advising: “Be kind. Rewind.”
Apparently people were so self-absorbed and self-centered even in the 80s and 90s that they could not be trusted with the common courtesy, decency and kindness to rewind their videotapes without admonishment. The humorous aspect of this whole thing is you actually felt good about yourself when you rewound these tapes. “Look at me; I am so kind! I rewound this tape.” Humorous T-shirts were made with the proclamation: “Please be kind. Rewind.” The profoundness of kindness was reduced to the simpleminded courtesy of rewinding a tape.
Kindness includes simple courtesy, but it is much more significant. The improve group Improve Everywhere understands this about kindness. Improve Everywhere does humorous, ridiculous and sometimes profound theatrical flash mobs designed to entertain and bring joy to the masses, as well as send meaningful messages. One of their purposeful improvisations, “Welcome Back,” included the random act of kindness of greeting complete strangers at the airport.
The group rallied at the JFK Airport and found taxi drivers who had signs held up for their customers, and they made their own signs welcoming the person home and joined the driver for a greeting their customer would not soon forget. When the person arrived, a huge crowd holding banners and yelling, “Welcome back!” would welcome them home. They would give the unsuspecting recipient of this kindness flowers, chocolates and balloons making him or her feel welcomed, loved and a little like a rock star. At first, the recipients would be confused, not too sure of what to do with the extravagance, but then they would be grateful and appreciative of the kindness and grace they had experienced from their new friends.
In a sense, kindness almost has become a novelty in our culture of rudeness and self-seeking self-promotion and self-centeredness. Many organizations have taken up the cause of kindness, and there is a kindness movement that seems to be sweeping the land. There is a kindness day and a push to practice random acts of kindness. There also is an organization that has begun called Life Vest Inside whose mission is to spread kindness everywhere with its kindness campaign. They have videos on YouTube, a great website and offer a curriculum to teach kindness in public schools and the private sector.
What is kindness? Do we know what kindness is? If we have ideas and assumptions of what kindness is, why are people not as kind as they could be or as kind as they know they should be? Why do we need to request kindness from others if we understand kindness? If we were a kind people, why would it be unique and surprising for Improve Everywhere to be kind to strangers in an airport? How could a kindness espousing organization exist if everyone were naturally kind and compassionate to one another?
So, what is kindness? According to the Tyndale Bible Dictionary, “Kindness is the state of being that includes the attributes of loving affection, sympathy, friendliness, patience, pleasantness, gentleness and goodness. Kindness is a quality shown in the way a person speaks and acts. It is more volitional than emotional.” This definition captures some of what kindness is, but kindness is still so much more than this. Kindness is not an emotion or feeling but a choice.
The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary translates the Hebrew word for kindness, chesed, as “compassion” and “faithfulness to one’s obligations, as well as to relatives, friends and to slaves.” According to The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, the New Testament word for kindness is translated from the Greek word chrestotes. The dictionary says, “This word can describe gentleness, goodness, uprightness, generosity and graciousness. The New Testament [also] describes kindness as an attribute of God (Titus 3:4). Kindness is [also] a characteristic of true love (1 Corinthians 13:4). The Lord’s people should possess kindness and not refuse to dispense it to others” (Matthew 5:7; Acts 20:35; Romans 15:2-5; Ephesians 4:32; 1 Peter 3:8; 1 Peter 4:8; 1 John 3:17).
One of the most profound Old Testament accounts of this kindness is the story of David and Mephibosheth. David had made a promise to his best friend, Jonathan, that he would show kindness to his family should anything happen to him. In 1 Samuel 20:12-17, we see Jonathan’s request and the covenant between him and David: “‘But show me unfailing kindness like the Lord’s kindness as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, and do not ever cut off your kindness from my family—not even when the Lord has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth.’ So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, ‘May the Lord call David’s enemies to account.’ And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.”
After Jonathan died in a bloody battle alongside his father, King Saul, David took the throne. As king, David could have done what a king traditionally did, which was kill the sons and families who would be a threat to the throne and kingship. David did the opposite. He kept his covenant with Jonathan and showed kindness to Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth (see 2 Samuel 9). We see David’s kindness and kind intentions in 2 Samuel 9:1 when David asked: “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”
David found Mephibosheth and showed him great kindness and the highest of honors when he gave him his grandfather’s land and a place at the king’s table. The story ends with 2 Samuel 9:13: “And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table.” What awesome kindness! We have also received this kindness and have been invited to eat at the King’s table.
In the New Testament, we see this kindness in Jesus’ telling of a The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, which is about the lovingkindness and mercy of a master toward his servant. The parable illustrates God’s kindness and how we are to show others kindness and mercy because of the kindness and mercy God has shown to us.
In this parable in Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus told of a servant who owed his master 10,000 talents, an unpayable debt. The servant could not repay the master, so the master was going to take all the man had and sell his family into slavery to pay back the debt. The man begged his master and was shown mercy. Matthew 18:27 records the master’s response: “Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.” This compassion, according to the Tyndale Bible Dictionary, is the “quality of showing kindness or favor, of being gracious, or of having pity or mercy.” This is the same kindness and compassion God shows to all of us.
After leaving his master, the servant found someone who owed him a hundred denarii. He beat the man, saying, “Pay me what you owe!” When the master found out what his servant had done after his huge debt had been forgiven, he was very angry and held him accountable: “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?'” (Matt. 18:32-33). If we are not kind, we do not understand the gospel and what Jesus has done for us in showing us kindness. Kindness should lead us to kindness.
According to Paul in Galatians 5:22-23, kindness is a fruit of the Spirit. Paul said, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” The way we can be kind is that we have the Spirit of kindness to transform us into the kind of people God wants us to be.
Paul got to the heart of God’s kindness in Ephesians 4:32—5:2 when he said: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Paul stressed the importance of understanding that God has exercised ultimate kindness toward us in His Son, Jesus’, sacrifice on our behalf. He went on, requesting that we should, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” We can be kind because of God’s loving kindness toward us as we follow His example and walk in His love.
In God’s kindness, He saved us through His Son, Jesus Christ. As Paul wrote to his friend and partner in ministry in Titus 3:4-7, he stressed this glorious truth: “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.” The thing about kindness is that none of us deserve it or can earn it. Kindness is free and merciful. This is why it is kindness. God has saved us through His Son, not because of our works, but because of His mercy and He has, “Saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” This is true and perfect kindness.
We should recognize kindness is not an easy or cheap novelty. We have been shown the most amazing and costly act of kindness that ever has existed. While we, as did Mephibosheth, deserve death, the King blesses us and invites us to His table. As in The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, we have been forgiven a debt we never can repay because of God’s great kindness and compassion, and we should forgive others of their debts against us and show them the same kindness we have been shown by our compassionate God.
As people who have been shown such great kindness, we should, as Paul said in Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God [has forgiven us].”
Prayer: Heavenly Father, whose blessed Son Jesus came not to be served but to serve, bless all who, following in His steps of kindness, give themselves to the service of others with compassion and kindness that with wisdom, patience and courage they may minister in His name to the suffering, the friendless and the needy for the love of Him, who in kindness and compassion, laid down His life for us, Your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Adapted from The Book of Common Prayer).
Cathey, J. (2003). Kindness. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E.R. Clendenen and T.C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E.R. Clendenen and T.C. Butler, Ed.) (984). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
Church, Episcopal (2011-01-16). The Book of Common Prayer (Special Kindle Enabled Version): Authorized Edition | Authorised Edition more than 500 pages of Christian prayers (Prayers for Kindle/Prayer Books for Kindle) (Kindle Locations 14086-14088). Christian Miracle Foundation Press. Kindle Edition.
Elwell, W.A., and Comfort, P.W. (2001). Tyndale Bible Dictionary. Tyndale reference library (773). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
Improve Everywhere, “Welcome Back”
Life Vest Inside, “Kindness Boomerang, One Day”
Patheos Blog, “Why I Don’t Think Random Acts of Kindness Are All that Great”
Robbie Pruitt loves Jesus, youth ministry, the great outdoors, writing poetry and writing about theology, discipleship and leadership. He has been in ministry more than 17 years and graduated from Trinity School for Ministry with a Diploma in Christian Ministry and from Columbia International University with a B.A. in Bible and General Studies and a minor in Youth Ministry. Follow his blogs here and here and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.