If you can't say something nice...

A group of high school students in Colorado were asked What is kindness? There was some hesitancy, as such a word is not easily defined apart from the context in which it is used. There was a consensus that kindness had a strong link to love and empathy. One described it as “making sure everyone feels welcomed and accepted.” When asked about why people are ‘unkind’, a girl responded, "Hard to be kind when your friends are the ones being unkind to someone… you have your whole group of friends acting against you and you have to stand up to them (What Is Kindness? Teens Respond)."

What resonated with me was how impossible it is to define this ‘fruit of the Spirit’ outside of human relationships. Unlike, faith or trust that is a ‘me and Jesus’ thing; kindness is demonstrated in relationship with other people. The issue for a follower of Jesus is that the world links kindness with being nice, not upsetting people or things. That is not how God’s word perceives it.

"I think this is one of the biggest confusions around the true meaning of kindness. Being kind does not always look like being ‘nice.’ Having a ‘pleasant disposition’ does not mean always making other people happy. Sometimes kindness means disappointing other people, even making them angry (Braime).”

God grown Fruit

Kindness is a God thing. Here is a great definition of kindness. “An attribute of God and quality desirable but not consistently found in humans (Huttar 446).” More confusing is that the Bible uses many words to describe being kind—such as “kindness, goodness, mercy, pity, love, grace, favor, compassion, gentleness, tenderness (Hutter 446).”

Kindness can be understood, seen and experienced only within relationships with other people. There are dozens of verses which show this truth. 1 Corinthians 13, in talking about the body of Christ describes love as kind (v4). Luke 6 describes the reason for doing ‘kind’ things is because God “is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You  [we] must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate” (v 35-36).

If, in Greek doesn’t always carry a sense of uncertainty as it seems to do in English. It often assumes the reality of what comes after. It carries a sense of ‘since’ or ‘because it is true’.

 Paul describes the kindness he expects from the Church in Philippi and us by reminding us of the encouragement, comfort, fellowship, affections and compassions which they shared together.

The letters in the New Testament are not written so Paul, James, Peter, or someone else can say, “Hi, how are things going?” They are written to address an issue, answer a question, solve a problem, encourage those who are being attacked, or to even promote anti-slavery. Paul is in Rome, in prison when he writes to this church. In Philippi there are those who are preaching to make a buck and a name for themselves and those who really care about sharing Christ.

Some of the people may have become complacent in their following Jesus. Some may well have tried to fit into the world around them, fearing to stand out as a follower of Jesus. That is why Paul reminds them,

27 Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. 28 Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. (Ph 1:27-28)

The threat or actual persecution may have been too much for some who had been told Paul had left them to be persecuted. Thus, Paul reminds them, “30 We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.”

Because of what the church in Philippi and Paul share a mutual ‘encouragement’ rooted in and flowing from the shared relationship they have as brothers and sisters in Jesus. The word is also used by Jesus, in John, to describe the Holy Spirit who He sends upon us, the church.

There is also a ‘comfort of love’ (2.1 lit. trans.). This is a comfort that comes from a mutual affection. Its ultimate source is their shared salvation through Jesus but that’s not Paul’s point. They have both been attacked for the sake of the Gospel and they love each other. The word is most often “found in a context of trials, difficulties, or sorrow (Spicq and Ernest V 3, 30).”

The presence and power of the Holy Spirit which the church and Paul share give them a commonality that surpasses that found in our world. Participation in the ESV or ‘fellowship’ in other translations is not describing various potlucks which Paul and the church shared. It is the mutual relationship in Christ that cement them together as sisters and brothers in Christ.

Lastly, Paul underscores the gut-wrenching compassion and the mutual awareness they have for each other. It causes them to experience the pain as if they were there. We call that empathy.

I mention all of this because we need to understand that the ‘fruit of the spirit’ is watered amid trials and pain; discomfort and persecution.

Ripening Fruit

Phyllis is pulling out her garden, little by little. She’s on a second crop of lettuce since our first plants went to seed. She is still picking some tomatoes and peppers. Most fruit and vegetables don’t ripen once, and they’re done. Many, continue to grow, produce fruit as long as they are cared for. This is the point in John 15 when Jesus describes God as the one who comes and thins out non-producing grapes so others can grow.

Kindness, like the rest of the fruit of the Spirit, are not a ‘one and done’ thing. You continue planting, caring, harvesting, pruning and the rest for as long as we live. When you don’t is when you fall into the selfishness and conceit which Paul warns about in verse 3. In these few verses we have a list of what will make Paul’s joy complete.

“Literally translated, Paul’s list looks like this:

  • having the same love

  • [being] united in soul

  • thinking one thing

  • [doing] nothing from selfish ambition

  • [doing] nothing from empty conceit

  • but considering others better than yourselves

  • each one not looking out for his own interests

  • but each one also [looking out for] the interests of others (Thielman 96-97)."

 Living a Kind Life

In the video I mentioned the students were asked how they could bring kindness into your community. One girl shared “Listening to people when they want to talk. World gets busy and voices get lost.” A few moments later she said that her “personal goal to make seven people smile each day even if I don't know them (What Is Kindness? Teens Respond).”

Let me share examples of what kindness looks like. Maybe it will help spur us toward similar lives.

When Sam Rayburn, the Speaker of the House, discovered he had cancer he moved back to Bonham Texas. He was in the middle of his term and when asked about his decision he reportedly said, "Because in Bonham, Texas, they know if you're sick, and they care when you die (Love).”

Jesus gave us some examples with which we may be more familiar. Luke 6:27-31

  • Love your enemies

  • Do good to those who hate you

  • Pray for those who hurt you

  • Let them hit you

  • Give them the shirt off your back

  • If someone steals don’t try to get it back

  • Treat others the way you want to be treated

  • Lend without expecting to be repaid

  • Be compassionate the way God is compassionate

  • Don’t condemn others

  • Give…the amount you give determines how much you get back

In Matthew 10 Jesus did tell his disciples that when they weren’t welcomed they were to leave and shake the dust off their feet. “Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town” (Mt. 10:15). And, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness” (Mt. 23:15).

Here’s one you might not remember.

“Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck, and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God (Heimert and Delbanco 91).”

That was from a sermon aboard the Arabella in 1630 by John Winthrop. Here is how this is done today. Rosaria Butterfield was anything but a Christian. She was lesbian, a professor of English and Women’s studies at Syracuse University. She worked hard for LGBTQ issues. She wrote an article against Promise Keepers in ’97 (Butterfield).

The responses she received she divided into two boxes—hate mail and fan mail. She then got a letter from Pastor Ken Smith sat on her desk for a week because she couldn’t decide in which box to put the letter. About the letter she said, “It was a kind and inquiring letter… Its tone demonstrated that the writer wasn’t against her (Witmer).” Later she would contact Ken and his wife and become friends. She says, “They talked with me in a way that didn’t make me feel erased.”

Let me suggest that when we live in such a way that we don’t make others, particularly those we don’t like feel erased we are within the process of becoming kind people.


 

Works Cited

Braime, Hannah. "The True Meaning of Kindness - Becoming Who You Are." Becoming Who You Are. Web. 28 Sept. 2018.

Butterfield, Rosaria. "Rosaria's Story" Rosaria Champagne Butterfield. Web. 29 Sept. 2018.

Heimert, Alan, and Nicholas Delbanco. Puritans in America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985. Print.

Huttar, David K. “Kindness.” Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology 1996 : 446. Print. Baker Reference Library.

Love, J.R. "Sam Rayburn Defined Community." Preaching Today. 2005. Web. 29 Sept. 2018.

Spicq, Ceslas, and James D Ernest. Theological Lexicon of The New Testament. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1994. Print.

Thielman, Frank. Philippians: The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009. Print.

What Is Kindness? Teens Respond. Centaurus High School in Lafayette, CO: randomactsofkindness, 2015. YouTube video.

Witmer, Stephen. "Kindness Changes Everything." Desiring God. 2016. Web. 25 Sept. 2018.

Bibliography

Braime, Hannah. "The True Meaning of Kindness - Becoming Who You Are." Becoming Who You Are. Web. 28 Sept. 2018.

Butterfield, Rosaria. "Rosaria's Story" Rosaria Champagne Butterfield. Web. 29 Sept. 2018.

Dickson, John. The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2010. Print.

Dumas. For Christ's Sake. Xlibris US, 2009. Print.

Heimert, Alan, and Nicholas Delbanco. Puritans in America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985. Print.

Huttar, David K. “Kindness.” Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology 1996 : 446. Print. Baker Reference Library.

Love, J.R. "Sam Rayburn Defined Community." Preaching Today. 2005. Web. 29 Sept. 2018.

Spicq, Ceslas, and James D Ernest. Theological Lexicon of The New Testament. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1994. Print.

"The Power of a Hug." Preaching Today. 1996. Web. 28 Sept. 2018.

Thielman, Frank. Philippians: The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009. Print.

What Is Kindness? Teens Respond. Centaurus High School in Lafayette, CO: randomactsofkindness, 2015. YouTube video.

Witmer, Stephen. "Kindness Changes Everything." Desiring God. 2016. Web. 25 Sept. 2018.

Zodhiates, Spiros. The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament. Chattanooga, Tenn.: AMG Publishers, 1993. Print.