God's nature is that of incredible loving-kindness toward all people. And He will kindly help His followers cultivate the much-needed fruit of godly kindness.
Take a look at what, according to Scripture, accompanies true kindness: "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each another, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:31-32, New International Version).
To consistently live up to all this is humanly impossible! But "with God, all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26).
How important is kindness? In a 2003 study of 37 cultures around the world, 16,000 subjects were asked about their most desired traits in a mate. For both sexes, the first preference was kindness!
People want to be treated kindly but have a harder time being kind themselves. A large-scale study of school bullies was recently conducted to learn why they bully other kids. The conclusion? Most do it because they enjoy doing it.
This illustrates how cruel, mean and sadistic raw human nature is. Kindness must be learned, and many children are not being taught it.
In fact, much of the media they're exposed to teaches the opposite. Violence and other terrible influences in media entertainment cause people to become desensitized and calloused toward the needs and feelings of others.
Some people think kindness is weak—not something for "go-getters" to be bothered with. Big mistake! If we want God, who has ultimate control of how things go in the universe, to be kind to us, we'd better be kind to others. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7).
People have many excuses: "I'm too busy." "The person deserves his suffering." "God is probably punishing him" (like Job's friends assumed wrongly in the book of Job). But God doesn't accept excuses for failing to show kindness.
Lack of kindness is epidemic. The apostle Paul accurately foretold a cold and hard-hearted world "in the last days" (2 Timothy 3:1-3). As a result, people are starved for the milk of human kindness!
What is kindness?
Kindness starts with caring—being tenderhearted and compassionate toward others. If God wants us to be kind to animals, how much more to people! (See Proverbs 12:10).
Next, we must make it our goal and habit to be actively looking for opportunities to show kindness. When we see one, we need to act quickly before the opportunity is gone.
The Greek word for "kind" is chrestos. Part of its meaning is useful, which makes it clear that biblical kindness involves action. "Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions" (1 John 3:18, New Living Translation, emphasis added throughout).
Action includes some kind of self-sacrifice and therefore generosity on our part, especially of our time. (That doesn't mean we neglect sufficient rest and whatever is needed to refill our own well.)
Of course, the emphasis on deeds over mere words does not mean words are unnecessary. Action includes words. Encouraging words of comfort, courtesy, compliments and even correction can be heartwarming acts of kindness. Several biblical proverbs attest to this.
What to say and not say should be guided by awareness of the sensitivities of others. We must help people heal from their emotional wounds rather than rubbing salt in those wounds. Sadly, when people know what "buttons to push," they often use that insight to further hurt each other.
Our motive for "charitable deeds" should not be to impress people (Matthew 6:1-4). The greatest rewards from God come when our acts of kindness are done humbly, quietly and, when practical, anonymously.
Doing someone a favor to get a favor in return is not wrong unless it's illegal or unethical (like bribery). But a favor done to get some benefit is not true kindness. Genuine kindness is lending a helping hand when you expect nothing in return.
Kindness should begin with our kin. Ironically and tragically, many people display their most unkind behavior with the ones they should love the most. God is not unaware of this hypocrisy.
And Jesus Christ emphasized that we must be kind to everyone, not just our family and friends (Luke 6:31-34). If you do this, "your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to [even] the unthankful and evil" (verse 35).
Be kind to the unthankful? Ouch!
If you and I are kind to hundreds of nice people, doesn't that prove we are kind people? Perhaps yes, according to normal standards. But God's standard requires being kind to all—even "evil" people.
Now if we do a good deed for someone and there is no "thank you," don't we feel we should "give him what he deserves" and wash our hands of him?
Of course. But our reacting in this "natural" way is not sufficient if we want to be "sons of the Most High." We must ask, "What would Jesus do?" and then do likewise.
Some people have not been taught to be thankful and are blind to the sin of ingratitude. It's good to remember a line from Glen Campbell's 1970 song, "Try a Little Kindness": "And if you try a little kindness, then you'll overlook the blindness."
A huge factor in the world today is that many people are psychologically confused, wounded and scarred by being neglected, rejected or abused, especially during the vulnerable time of childhood. They can be full of depression, fears, anger and suspicion.
And people who have not been abused themselves may well have absorbed attitudes passed along from those who have been abused.
If you reach your hand out to pet a dog, will he wag his tail or bite you? If he has been repeatedly beaten and abused, he may interpret your gesture as a threat and bite.
Likewise, many people are suspicious of any favors. They assume everyone has a selfish ulterior motive and is out to manipulate them or hurt them. They often "bite the hand that feeds them."
But these people need kindness more than anyone! Persistent efforts to be kind to them can gradually convince them that you are a true friend. Furthermore, your kindness can bring about progressive healing for their wounded hearts.
How to cultivate kindness
It takes genuine effort to be truly kind. In Galatians 5:19-21, the apostle Paul refers to human nature as "the flesh" and our natural tendencies as the "works of the flesh." These include hatred, jealousies, selfish ambitions and envy. All these traits are selfish and self-centered.
Kindness requires the opposite—caring concern for others. "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others" (Philippians 2:3-4).
Our innate human nature must be replaced by God's nature, and that can only happen by receiving the gift of God's Spirit dwelling in us and the wonderful fruit it produces: "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23).
Each characteristic here clearly relates to the others. Longsuffering, the previous one explained in this series of articles on the fruit of God's Spirit, is linked with kindness in two other lists (2 Corinthians 6:6; Colossians 3:12). And both are important components of love: "Love suffers long and is kind" (1 Corinthians 13:4).
How does one obtain the Holy Spirit? The apostle Peter explained the basic requirements in Acts 2:38: "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
Follow the Bible's examples of kindness
Great examples of kindness can inspire us to greater kindness: King David toward Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9). The Shunammite woman and her husband toward Elisha (2 Kings 4:8-10). Dorcas, a beloved woman who "was full of good works and charitable deeds" (Acts 9:36-39). The Samaritan in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Barnabas, whose name meant "Son of Encouragement" (Acts 4:36).
Another is the "virtuous wife" who diligently attends to the needs of her family and of many others (Proverbs 31). "She extends her hand to the poor, yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy" (verse 20). "And on her tongue is the law of kindness" (verse 26).
May our tongues be guided by the law of kindness!
One of the most important Hebrew words in the Old Testament is hesed, used there 240 times. It is often translated mercy, but the meaning is broader—concerning loyal or steadfast love and covenant faithfulness. No single English word is adequate to translate it, partly because language is insufficient to describe this central quality of God's character.
The word devotion perhaps comes closest. But the demonstration of this committed love in actions is also included. That's why the word is sometimes appropriately rendered as mercy, as mentioned, and as loving-kindness or just kindness.
The Scriptures frequently praise the hesed of God. They also tell us that we should have hesed toward one another.
Jesus Christ practiced kindness that was radical for that time and culture. He always had great concern for women as well as men, for children as well as adults, for other races as well as the Jewish race, and for the sick and weak as well as the strong. Often He wore Himself out praying for people, healing people, feeding people and helping them in other ways.
When Jesus looked on the multitudes of people with all their problems, sicknesses and confusion, He was "moved with compassion" (Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 18:27). As we look at the people around us, we, too, should be moved with compassion. We, too, should be helping, giving, sharing, caring, encouraging, extending mercy, filled with compassion and acting on it as we are able—in a word, kind.
With each of us, may the fruit of kindness continue to blossom and grow. Above all, may we strive to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, who personified God's hesed in the greatest example of loving-kindness. GN