“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.”
“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love”
“Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you”
“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see”
For the past few months, the young professionals group at my church has been conducting a scriptural study on fruits of the Spirit. Recently, we investigated kindness as a fruit of the Spirit. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul provides a list of these fruits:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23, NASB).
As has been emphasized in other posts that I have recently written on fruits of the Spirit, certain characteristics are present among them all. A few core commonalities among fruits of the Spirit; they are:
- Dependent on an eternal perspective for living
- Behavioral manifestations that emanate from loving God and loving others
- Volitional actions that may or may not align with one’s emotions
- Only possible through the Holy Spirit, as part of one’s relationship with God through Christ
Therefore, when trying to understand what constitutes kindness as a fruit of the Spirit, it is necessary to examine kindness within a biblical context; separating it from the secular. Not surprisingly, the way that the world perceives the term kindness is not quite in accordance with the definition of kindness that represents a fruit of the spirit. Yet, neither are the two interpretations of the word mutually exclusive in meaning. Subsequently, difficulty exists when trying to narrowly define kindness, whether examining it from a secular or biblical context. Below is the definition of kindness from Merriam-Webster:
Noun: The quality or state of being kind.
Okay…not so helpful (actually, it is a terrible definition that seems to be used by every dictionary I checked). Some of its synonyms are benevolence, courtesy, grace, favor, mercy, and service. So, let us consider the root word—what is it to be kind? Well, some of the words that can serve as a substitute for kind would be loving, affectionate, gentle, considerate, and helpful. The word kindness is problematic to define because it overlaps with so many other commonly used words—its meaning being near impossible (or, actually impossible) to create an isolated definition. Consider the following scripture—spoken by Jesus—from the gospel of Luke:
“But 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 Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36, NASB).
The words love, good, kind, and merciful can be interpreted in the above verses to overlap or serve as contextual synonyms. Jesus continues speaking to His disciples in the gospel of Luke by providing direction on how to exhibit behaviors that exemplify love, goodness, kindness, and mercy:
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Luke 6:37-38, NASB).
Then, Jesus shares a parable with His disciples, which emphasizes that loving kindness (or goodness)—as a fruit—is only possible if the source is also kind and good:
“…there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (Luke 6:43-45, NASB).
I believe that the key to understanding how kindness differs in a biblical context from the secular is understanding to what (or whom) Jesus is referring when He speaks of treasure. For I believe that scripture makes it abundantly clear that a follower’s treasure is Jesus:
If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs…instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:8-10, 17, NASB).
…their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:2-3, NASB).
The Lord is exalted, for He [Jesus] dwells on high; he has filled Zion [His people] with justice and righteousness. And He will be the stability of your times, a wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge; The fear of the Lord is his treasure (Isaiah 33:5-6, NASB).
Jesus is informing His disciples through the parable that He is the source of all that is good and kind. We must recognize that we cannot bear fruit that is good or kind without Him at the center of our lives—He must be our treasure. Consider the story of the rich young man:
And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions (Matthew 19:16-22, ESV).
Jesus is offering the man the only treasure that matters—a heavenly treasure that supersedes mortal worth (Luke 12:33; Matthew 6:20). Jesus offers the man relationship with Him, and he walks away…
While the rich young man lives in a way that exhibits kindness towards others, the type of kindness he imparts is of a secular variety. His actions are not for God’s glory, but for His own. He views wealth from a temporal perspective—His immediate circumstances. The rich young man makes an eternal decision from a temporal perspective that has eternal implications. And if our lives are eternal, do not all of our decisions and actions possess eternal implications upon ourselves and others. Regardless of our temporal perspectives, we are to make every decision from an eternal perspective of living, with focus on Christ. The late Christian writer, C.S. Lewis, writes of the necessity of viewing life from an eternal perspective in his work The Weight of Glory. He understands what is at stake:
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”
As C.S. Lewis conveys, perspective is everything. And it is perspective that differentiates the secular meaning of kindness from its biblical counterpart. Having shared some background on how I understand kindness, below are my secular and biblical definitions for the word:
Secular definition: Kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate to the temporal circumstances and perspectives of others; making thoughtful and intentional effort to meet their perceived needs and wants when possible.
Biblical definition: As a fruit of the Spirit, kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate to others while acting from an eternal perspective of their circumstances; making thoughtful and intentional effort to glorify God in your service towards them.
While these definitions possess similarities, they are quite different when considering application. A secular understanding and application of kindness towards someone will lead to action that will almost always lead to the other person perceiving it as kind. However, following a biblical understanding and application of kindness towards someone—the “fruit of the Spirit” kindness—may not be perceived positively by the other person. This requires further clarification…
Kindness from a temporal, secular perspective will lead to actions that align with what the other person perceives as being kind. If that person is not a Christian, and lives in a manner that denies the existence or goodness of God, exhibiting (secular) kindness towards that individual is likely to encourage behavior that does not glorify God; leading someone further into sin. What that individual desires and requests is going to appear good to them (and to us) if we are viewing life from a temporal perspective, outside of God’s presence.
Yet, a biblical understanding of kindness acts upon an eternal perspective of life, and a belief in a good and loving God. The only thing with eternal value is living in perfect union with God, which is only possible through a relationship with Christ. Why?
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds (Titus 1:11-14, NASB).
Therefore, to enact kindness that encourages worldly desires is following a secular, temporal perspective, which is not a fruit of the Spirit. How can the Spirit be present when God is being denied by those embracing and encouraging behaviors that enable sin?
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries (Hebrews 10:23-27, NASB).
To impart kindness towards others is to live in accordance to the Word of God, and encourage the same in others. We are to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. Consider the word “stimulate.” It is a word that means to encourage action. Note, that stimulate is not the same as force. The two words are distinctly different. We cannot force anyone to have a personal relationship with Christ. Relationship requires two-way interaction. Jesus seems to clearly say as much in Revelation 3:20, when He tells us (Christians), “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”
Though, I believe that knowing Christ and His love for us (Romans 5:8) will lead anyone to pursue greater relationship with Him. And in stimulating others to love and good deeds, we are engaging in spiritual warfare against sin. We act as Christ’s ambassadors, serving to make God’s presence palpable to those who do not yet know Him. And when we serve as Christ’s ambassadors, our unworldly love—God’s agape love—should be visible to those with whom we live, work, and play:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35, NASB).
Is should now be easier to see how engaging in kindness from an eternal perspective would be uncomfortable and threatening to those who are living in sin. Basically, in such situations, we are acting in the best interest of that person, but because they do not believe in a good and loving God–or are momentarily straying from His Word–they will almost assuredly disagree. Though, we must ask ourselves, what is more important…our relationship with that person, or that person’s relationship with God?
Again, this leads to another point of clarification. We should make every effort to maintain healthy relationships with others, as we encourage one another to live in healthy accord with God through a personal relationship with Christ. I do not condone the actions of hateful churches that try to scare people into a relationship with Christ by fostering fear. Anyone that knows me personally knows that I believe worldly fear is our enemy; discouraging us from loving God and others. We should always confront fear with love. Why?
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV).
And what is love?
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, NASB).
And what does it look like to love others?
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:9-21, NASB).
Which leads us to another question: Who is our enemy? Sadly, the answer is anyone who is outside of Christ’s body of believers. For all who sin are enemies of God, and we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NASB). Without Christ’s grace and mercy, we are all enemies of God.
Though, given the grace that we have been provided as Christians, it would be hypocritical for us to seek revenge. Nor should we desire that anyone would incur the wrath of God. Therefore, I do not interpret Romans 9:19-20 to encourage us to seek harm upon others. Rather, I believe this scripture only reinforces that God is both good and just, and that good conquers evil. Justice will fall upon those who choose not to seek the love and mercy of Christ. We should desire that all come to know Christ, and enjoy the same love and mercy that we have received.
Thus, we should pay forward the kindness that we have received. We are not masters, but servants:
For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond servants for Jesus’ sake (2 Corinthians 4:5, NASB).
And we should not be arrogant in our positions as adopted sons and daughters of God:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:9, NASB).
Christ’s loving kindness is the reason why we have the opportunity for a joyful eternity with our heavenly Father:
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit (1 Peter 3:18, NASB).
Therefore, we acknowledge that Christ is Lord, and lovingly follow His example:
You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them (John 13:13-17, NASB).
That is what it is to be Christian. The love and kindness which we receive from Christ—we are to pay it forward.
Consider the golden rule:
“Treat others the same way you want them to treat you” (Luke 6:31, NASB).
We should view this rule from Christ’s eternal perspective—adhering to His wisdom. Our behaviors are to encourage others to pursue Christ, not their selfish self-interests—nor our own selfish agendas. I would never want someone to lead me away from Christ if they know Him. Nor would I ever want to be guilty of leading someone further away from Christ if they do not know Him. To do that would be the most unloving thing possible–and truly despicable. We must have compassion!
We are to love both God and others—which simply means engaging in healthy relationships that glorify God. Yet, it also means that we must sometimes lovingly confront those Christian brothers and sisters with whom we are most invested—our friends and family—when they stray from the righteous path. For “a friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17, NASB).
And when we are the straying brother or sister in Christ, we should remember that our friends confront us out of love; wanting us to repent, and once again be in healthy relationship with Christ:
Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy (Proverbs 27:5-6, NASB).
What I find ironic, is that these verses from Proverbs really accentuate the difference between secular and biblical kindness. When we engage in secular kindness, we—whether or not it is our intention—deceive the other person with our “kisses.” Similarly, if we hide a love that God has given us for them, how does that stimulate the other person to love and good deeds? Basically, to be a loving friend necessitates that we 1) keep open channels of communication with others, and 2) speak constructively with one another from an eternal perspective for living—one with a central focus on Christ.
And while there will be trying times, we can be patient and persevere by trusting and resting in God’s love and sovereignty; knowing that doing the right thing is never a fruitless endeavor:
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58, NASB).
As I conclude, image what would happen if all who enjoy the loving kindness of Christ pay it forward?
…would it not be the coming of the kingdom of heaven?
Let’s hope 🙂