Fruit of the Spirit : Kindness
by Marion Van Driel
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)
A few years ago, random acts of kindness became popular. Pay for someone’s coffee in the Starbuck’s lineup. Let someone go before you at the grocery counter. The word ‘kind’ originates with family, or ‘kin’. We are naturally protective and caring of our own. Throughout history, family clans have stood together through hardship and battle, in fierce loyalty.
As a description of the Spirit’s fruit, kindness follows quickly on the heels of patience; so it follows in the famous ‘love chapter,’ 1 Corinthians 13: “Love is patient, love is kind.” This chapter is often used at weddings, as a model of love’s true colors. It also describes God’s nature; God (Love) is patient, God (Love) is kind.
There is a Hebrew word – hesed – that describes a love that is faithful, merciful and compassionate. J.H. Wright, in his book, Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit, explains that in hesed, “God is being faithful to his covenant promises, paying careful attention to our needs, acting in generous and merciful love, generously providing everything for our blessing and benefit.”
Our confession, ‘surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life’, is possible only because of God’s hesed.
The Old Testament Israelites recounted God’s goodness to them and celebrated His watchfulness over them. “I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us – yes, the many good things he has done for Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses.” (Isaiah 63:7 NIV)
Paul gives the example of God’s providential kindness in sending rain for the crops and plentiful food (Acts 14:17) not just for believers, but all of earth’s people. Later, in Romans 2, he urgently lays out God’s desired outcome: “. . . do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance, and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” God doesn’t force us into relationship with Him – rather, He draws us. It’s an old word, but worthy of consideration – God woos us as a lover pursues the object of his desire. His greatest kindness to us is the exchange of our chains for true freedom. As we catch a glimpse of His kindness in the grace of Christ, our hearts open toward Him. We lay ourselves bare in confession and repentance. We are renewed into a life of joyful intimacy with our lover.
Maturing on the vine
The Spirit’s fruit drips with the exquisite flavour of kindness. “The essence of kindness,” says Wright, “is being thoughtful for others more than for myself in any particular situation, even if it’s inconvenient.” He adds that it’s “doing something you don’t have to do, but just choose to do.” Kindness acts out of mercy and compassion – a response of empathy as if we were walking in another’s shoes.
Stories abound in scripture – Abraham who, out of deference, gave the best land to Lot, Boaz and Ruth’s regard for each other, David’s care for Mephibosheth’s wellbeing, even Rahab’s protection of the men who were investigating Canaan.
Then we encounter Jesus, the One for whom nothing is too much. Jesus welcomes the shunned, the diseased, the poor, the children, and large crowds. He shows deep regard for the dignity of people and meets their needs – physical, spiritual and emotional. We never hear Jesus heave a huge sigh as He sees someone approaching in the distance. We don’t see Him roll His eyes or become annoyed as a hole is chopped through the roof and a paralytic is lowered before Him, interrupting His sermon. Jesus takes note of people. He asks them what He can do for them. He serves with humility and grace. The Spirit plants these seeds of kindness in Jesus’ followers, who are given these instructions: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)
If we contain the seeds of kindness within us, then why is our world not a kinder place? If we derive our nutrition from Jesus, our vine, why is there such a shortage of kindness, even within the Christian community? Wright admits, as most of us might, that in his own life, he simply is too busy to take time for kindness. He’s preoccupied with his own priorities. We often dismiss people as interruptions and impositions. It comes back to our selfish nature.
Maya Angelou says, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Kindness is powerful!
A smile or a kind word takes little time but could have major impact on someone’s life. This would have been the case for the distraught man who decided to commit suicide by jumping off San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. He left behind a note saying that if even one person smiled at him on his way to the bridge, he would not carry through with his plan. No one did.
Wright goes on to discuss how we can make kindness a habit, so that it becomes built into our character, by asking ourselves the following questions each day:
• Who can I thank today either at home or as I travel, shop, work or study?
• How will I respond today if I meet someone in need? Am I prepared to help in advance? Do I have something with me to offer?
• Who can I show kindness to? How can I emulate Jesus?
Paul reminds us to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col 3:17). This means acting as if Jesus were visibly present. This, according to Wright, prompts us to ask two more questions:
1. What would I do for people if I were Christ?
2. What would I do for people if they were Christ?
These two questions are the crux of the matter, and bear constant attention. As we continually ponder them, our kindness will become habitual. We may even find that kindness begets the same. Most importantly, kindness draws people to Jesus.