The Magic of Kindness
An inspired writer declared: “That which makes a man desirable is his kindness” (Prov. 19:22). A non-inspired writer, the celebrated William Shakespeare, mused: “Kindness in women, not their beauteous looks, shall win my love.”
While “kindness” may be disdained by the brutal and go unappreciated by the insensitive, it is applauded in any cultured society. The value of the “milk of human kindness” cannot be overstated.
The history of the word “kindness” (Grk. – chrestotes) is interesting. Originally, it had to do with that which is “useful” or “effective,” referring to either persons or things. In the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) it was employed of “precious” stones (Ezek. 27:22), or “fine” gold (Dan. 2:32). But the word could also have a sense of the ethical, encompassing such traits as honesty, friendliness, lovingness, goodness, generosity, compassion, benevolence, etc.
It is the opposite of brutal, harsh, hurtful, uncaring, rude, and such like. The word is more difficult to succinctly define than it is to recognize.
There is the story of the mother who sought to chastise her quarreling children. She admonished them to be “kind” to one another. When her little girl inquired what “kind” meant, the mother carefully explained the term.
Shockingly, the child then asked: “Mom, do we know anyone like that?”
The Motivation to Kindness
In a world that is more prone to the tooth-and-claw philosophy of Darwin, than it is to the rule of kindness, one is bound to ask: How is one to survive in a ruthless society wherein kindness is becoming such a rare commodity? Is there value in kindness? If so, how do we learn this virtue?
It is an indisputable fact that every good trait of which man is capable, ultimately, is motivated by that which is found in the Creator — in whose image he has been fashioned (Gen. 1:26-27). John writes:
“We love, because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). So, similarly, Jesus declared: “But love your enemies, and do them good, and lend, never despairing; and your reward shall be great, and you shall be sons of the Most High: for _he is kind toward the unthankful and evil”_ (Lk. 6:35).
How tragic it is that so many, even in the church, have never learned this truth. Rather, they contend that one’s enemies are worthy of destruction. If we would emulate our God, we will cultivate kindness.
In the antique religion of paganism, only rarely is the term “kind” used of the gods. The heathen disdained the term and “thought it to be incompatible with the majesty of deity” (Weiss, 1320).
By way of contrast, however, the God of the Bible is supremely kind.
The Psalmist wrote: “Praise ye Jehovah. Oh give thanks unto Jehovah; for he is good; For his lovingkindness endures forever” (Ps. 106:1).
Paul says that the gift of Christ for human salvation was an expression of divine “kindness” (Tit. 3:4; Eph. 2:7), and it is this “kindness” (chreston — “goodness” KJV/ASV) that leads to repentance (Rom. 2:4).
In Romans 11:22, Paul employs the noun crestotes three times (rendered “goodness” in the common versions). God’s goodness and kindness is set in contrast to his “severity.” The latter is derived from a word meaning “to cut off.” In the papyri it is used of exacting the full provisions of law — the law untampered (Moulton, 71).
But note that whereas the Roman Christians were urged to consider the goodness or kindness (chrestotes) of God, they were similarly admonished to “continue” in that kindness (v. 22), which is the equivalent of continuing in “the faith” (cf. Acts 14:22). There is human responsibility there; those who neglect the Creator’s kindness, ultimately will suffer his wrath. Now is the time for accepting Heaven’s kindness; the day will come when only “judgment” remains.
Since the varying qualities of deity are wonderfully apparent in Jesus, it should be no surprise that the milk of kindness was evidenced in the Son of God. In that great invitation offered to the cities of Galilee, and in spite of their rejection of his miraculous works (cf. Mt. 11:20ff), Christ bade the citizens of his country to:
“Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls, for my yoke is easy (chrestos) and my burden is light” (vv. 28-30).
One writer suggests that this could indicate a “well-conditioned yoke, one that is not rough and does not hurt or chafe” (Spicq, 511). Another notes:
bq. “Just as wisdom does not force upon a person the heavy yoke of the conqueror, but rather invites him into an intimate bond which is actually a form of joy and adornment, so also does Jesus” (Balz, 474).
In addition to his teaching, the Son of God also exemplified kindness in his demeanor toward others. His treatment of the woman who had been apprehended in the very act of adultery exuded the spirit of gentleness and compassion (cf. Jn. 8:1ff), though the Savior did not condone her evil in any way.
Or consider how Jesus dealt with Judas when the traitor approached him in the garden of Gethsemane, assaulting him with a treacherous kiss. The Lord gently said: “Friend, do that for which you have come” (Mt. 26:50). Kind to the very end.
New Testament Admonitions
The New Testament documents have a good deal to say about the necessity of kindness. Paul observes that those who possess love (agape) are kind (1 Cor. 13:4); indeed, kindness is one of those qualities that compose the “fruit” of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22) — without which one does not belong to the Lord (Rom. 8:9). It was a marvelous trait that was generously demonstrated by the Lord’s apostles (2 Cor. 6:6).
It is one thing to speak of kindness in the abstract, it is quite another to make specific applications. But this is what we must do. We must get down to “where we live.”
Let us, therefore, look at several areas in which a greater measure of kindness doubtless is needed.
Kindness to strangers
The Christian must look for opportunities to show kindness to others in society at large. That next-door neighbor, the waitress in the restaurant, the companion on the plane, etc. It appears that so many these days are “cocked,” ready to “take on” someone at the drop of a hat.
A man was checking out at the grocery store. As he picked up his sack to depart, the smiling young lady who was clerking, said: “Have a nice day, sir.” With a glare, he shot back: “Young woman, nobody tells me what to do!” The old-timers used to speak of those who act as if they were weaned on a dill pickle!
The early saints earned the reputation of being so very kind to their contemporaries. The Roman ruler Julian, who reigned a brief period in the mid-fourth century A.D. and who despised Christianity, nonetheless unwittingly paid a glowing compliment to the primitive saints when he wrote:
“As children are coaxed with cake, so have these Christians enticed the poor to join them by kindness. Strangers they have secured by hospitality. By affecting brotherly love, great moral purity, and honoring their dead, they have won the multitude” (Abbott, 340).
Kindness in the home
There must be a greater exhibition of kindness in the home. Sometimes husbands and wives are so brutal to one another. Words can cut deeply, and there are those who surgically use the tongue as a deadly instrument, wounding the soul.
There are parents who talk to and treat their children no better than a common street dog. Most everyone is aware that child-abuse is virtually epidemic in its scope. Even now, there is the growing maltreatment of aged parents by cruel and ungrateful offspring.
In the concluding chapter of the book of Proverbs, there is the recorded testimony of king Lemuel, as taught to him by his dear mother, regarding the woman who is to be deemed “worthy” (31:10 ASV). The Hebrew term hayil in this context signifies capable, efficient, or quality of character (Wakely, 118). Such a remarkable woman is valued far above rubies.
Note the adulation she enjoys from her family. Her husband trusts in her, because she does him good and not evil (vv. 11-12). He praises this wonderful wife, and their children join in the chorus; they rise up and call her blessed (vv. 28-29). One of the key elements to the domain of domestic bliss surely has to be this: “the law of kindness is on her tongue” (v. 26b).
Is there any doubt about the fact that if more homes were saturated with the benevolence of kindness, there would be far fewer divorces, less juvenile delinquency, and a much greater degree of happiness?
Kindness in the church
There needs to be a larger measure of kindness in the church. Some of the early congregations apparently had their problems mastering this virtue. Paul dropped a load on the Ephesians when he wrote:
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and railing, be put away from you, with all malice; and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:31-32).
It is interesting that the verb in this passage linked to the word “kind” literally means “to become,” and its present tense form would suggest, “practice becoming kind to one another.” This indicates that kindness is something that has to be diligently pursued and practiced. It does not come easily when dealing with difficult people.
How many church problems might be healed if brethren were kinder to each other? In some congregations, where elders do not exist, “business meetings” have become a virtual war zone for the display of all sorts of harshness. Some brethren appear to be unable to approach an issue except in the “attack” mode.
There are men who serve as shepherds (elders) who do not treat their flock with kindness. Have you ever noticed how many of the bishop’s qualifications relate to this quality — such traits as no brawler, no striker, not contentious, gentle, patient, given to hospitality, just, a lover of good men?
Moreover, as virtually anyone who has his finger on the brotherhood pulse knows, there are preachers among us who find it most difficult to disagree with others without punctuating their diatribes with the worst sort of epithets. To them, “kindness” is not a virtue; it is compromise and weakness.
There are, of course, occasions when one is compelled to deal with error and its advocates in a forceful way. Jesus did (cf. Mt. 23), and he was the epitome of kindness. Moreover, the inspired writers of the New Testament also addressed heresy and the purveyors thereof.
There is, however, a difference between dealing with a false ideology or an erring brother, and that in a firm fashion, and being downright vicious. Some of our men have mastered the art of hatefulness.
May we strive toward a kinder atmosphere in the various compartments of our lives.
- Abbott, John S. C. 1883. The History of Christianity. Portland, ME: George Stinson & Co.
- Balz, Horst & Schneider, Gerhard. 1993. Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament. Vol. 3. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
- Moulton, J. H. & Milligan, G. 1963. The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
- Spicq, Ceslas. 1994. Theological Lexicon of the New Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.
- Wakely, Robin. 1997. Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis. Vol. 2. W.A. VanGemeren, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
- Weiss, K. 1985. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. G. Bromiley, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.