The Gympie Times newspaper had the headline “Family blown away by kindness”. This was a news story at the beginning of September 2007, when cyclonic storms hit the Sunshine Coast and Gympie areas one Thursday evening. You may recall the heavy rain and flooding which occurred. Neville Hazelgrove, his wife and 5 children live in the area affected in Gympie. He signed up for a house on the Thursday morning and the storm struck that night, wrecking his home and contents. He works as a teacher’s aide at the local high school and teachers had rallied round and given him an envelope with quite a bit of money. Even the school kids said, “Can we help you clean up?, Do you need anything?” Another stranger let him have a house rent-free. Mr Hazelgrove was astounded at how nice the local community was. “I’ve always loved country towns, but this is incredible. The kindness is incredible. I must be getting old—I just can’t cope with how nice people are.”
A simple good news story you may say, but I sense it reveals a deep desire for kindness. Unfortunately there is a shortage of human kindness today. I like the story of a mother who wanted to chastise her quarrelling children. She said, “I want you to be kind to one another.” “But, what does that mean, mum?”, said one and her mother explained the word. But the little girl replied, “Mum, do we know anyone like that?” What she meant is that kindness is a bit of a dud word today, because we’re all too busy in our own lives—we live in a fast-paced and competitive society—we don’t have time to show kindness. We get on a crowded train or bus and very rarely does anyone give you a seat.
So what does it mean to be kind? Does it still matter today? If you are a kind-hearted person, it means you are friendly, generous, warm-hearted in nature, you show understanding, you are sensitive, considerate and tolerant. You act for the good of others regardless of how they react. Kindness is goodness in action. It’s love with its working clothes on. That’s why Paul told the Corinthian Christians, “Love is patient, love is kind.”
The Bible tells us the “fruit of the spirit is kindness”. It’s important to remember that it is a major Christian virtue, a fruit of the Spirit. So, for that reason alone, we should take it seriously. The Jewish rabbi Harold Kushner wrote, “When you carry out acts of kindness, you get a wonderful feeling inside. It’s as though something inside your body responds and says, yes, this is how I ought to feel.”
I am stating the obvious this morning, but kindness is a gift—do you intentionally practice this gift? Have you noticed that when someone does a kind thing for you, you feel touched and grateful? We stayed with some friends last weekend who are very kind people. They had to go out on Saturday and leave us on our own. But my friend made sure he bought a particular DVD that I had mentioned, so I could watch it. That is an act of kindness that I appreciated. It’s no big deal, but the small acts of thoughtfulness are what we remember.
Author Bobbie Read has written a book called Listen to the Heart and she says this: “People who develop the gift of kindness in their lives find that they approach relationships and friendships with the question What can I do to make things easier for someone?” Are there times when you should exercise the gift of kindness?
1. Kindness in the Old Testament:
Sometimes we forget that the Old Testament reveals a lot about God’s kindness. Instead we think of the acts of cruelty. But the OT shows God is a loving and kind God. Remember we are talking about ‘the fruit of the spirit’. God made a covenant with the people of Israel which said, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” (Leviticus 26). The covenant made it clear that, of all the nations on earth, the people of Israel had a special place in God’s overall plan. He set his love on them and, through their father Abraham, promised them great blessings. But the people of Israel didn’t seem to appreciate these facts because they rejected God so many times—they were disobedient—but he never broke his covenant with them. He showed his loving kindness, love and mercy at all times. With kindness is linked gentleness and faithfulness. During the Israelites rescue mission from Egypt, God cared for them by providing food and water and his own protection all the way to the Promised Land. He never gave up on them. It almost seems he used kindness to get their attention and to break their stubborn hearts.
Psalm 78:37-39 describes it well: “Their hearts were not loyal to him; they were not faithful to his covenant. Yet he was merciful. He atoned for their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return.”
Jeremiah 31 is another helpful description: “This is what the Lord says – the people who survive the sword will find favour in the desert; I will come and give rest to Israel. The Lord appeared to us in the past saying, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving kindness’.” Note he didn’t say, “I will love you”, but “I have loved you—already loved you.”
Look at the story of Hosea some time—another remarkable illustration of God’s kindness. Hosea marries a prostitute who is constantly unfaithful and yet Hosea does not give up on her. He saw a lesson on God’s feelings about Israel’s wayward behaviour. God would not give up on his people. Hosea 11: 8,9: “How can I give you up, Ephraim, how can I hand you over, Israel? My heart is changed and my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, for I am God”. The eternal God did not give them what they deserved—he gave them loving kindness instead. What a beautiful picture here! God can be no other than kind—he is the essence of kindness: “The Lord is fair in everything he does and full of kindness. He is close to all who call on him sincerely.” (Psalm 145: 17,18)
2. Kindness in the New Testament:
It is much easier to see kindness in action in the New Testament and probably easier to follow—there’s much more detail of divine kindness. The Greek word for ‘kindness’ is ‘chrestos’, which means ‘useful, suitable, worthy, pleasant, gracious, generous, doing what is right’. In the OT God uses a kindness based on his covenantal love—He used kindness to break stubborn hearts and bring them to repentance.
But in the NT, God’s kindness is seen best in the gift of his Son Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:6,7: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the Heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages, he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his knowledge to us in Christ Jesus.” Paul is saying it’s almost impossible to fully understand how marvellous is the level of God’s kindness through Jesus. We cannot comprehend fully—we live in a broken world. Yet we can try to get our head around the kindness of God in forgiving our sins through Jesus Christ.
Titus 3:4 says it like this: “When the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” God took great delight in extending his kindness to you and me by sending Jesus to be our Lord and Saviour. I can think of no greater act of kindness!
What can we learn from all this today?
Simply, we do have a Christian obligation to show kindness to everyone. No exceptions.
Colossians 3:12-13: “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.”
Kindness produces definite results. We’ve heard about Mother Theresa of Calcutta. She showed great kindness to the poor and dying, not caring what they looked like or if they were riddled with disease. She saw Jesus in each of them. Billy Graham is respected and loved around the world for many things, but his kindness is sometimes overlooked. He has earned the respect of both the secular and Christian communities. It was William Faber who said, “kindness has converted more sinners than zeal, eloquence or learning.” And I think that is correct.
Let’s do what we can to develop empathy for others, putting ourselves in other people’s shoes. We can remember how kind God is, to use each day and then put it into action.
How long does it take to say to someone, “I was praying for you today”?—not very long.
In sharing the gospel with people, here is a good way to start. If you feel uncomfortable going out to evangelise, start with kindness.
Author Steve Sjogren, who wrote Conspiracy of Kindness, said, “For most Christians doing evangelism is a lot like going to the dentist; no one really enjoys doing it, but it must be done once in a while. But anyone can do simple acts of kindness—people don’t necessarily remember what they are told of God’s love, but they never forget what they have experienced of God’s love.”